Have you noticed there are some people you feel more comfortable with than others? Think of people you trust with your secrets, your belongings and who respect your ideas. Chances are, these are people who know and respect your boundaries. Now, can you think of someone who uses your things without asking, is in your personal space, or who feels entitled to your time? In these situations, clear boundaries have not been set, or are not being respected.
There are different types of boundaries we set throughout the day, every day, sometimes without giving it a second thought. We set limits regarding our physical being, our belongings, our ideas, our time, our energy, and our sexuality. Learning to set healthy limits is an important part of feeling safe in our relationships, yet for some it can be a difficult process. Some may be too rigid, in boundary setting, while others struggle to set appropriate limits at all feeling guilty or afraid.
For those who were raised in a dysfunctional family, or who have suffered abuse, this may be especially difficult. Low self-esteem can make it hard for people to stand up for themselves, and the loved ones of those struggling with addiction may also struggle to set appropriate limits.
Here are some guidelines to get you started setting and asserting appropriate limits in your life.
First, it is important to recognize what your boundaries are. Think about different situations and people and times when your feel comfortable and uncomfortable. Feelings of discomfort or anger are good signs that a limit has been reached and should be communicated to the other person.
Believe you have as much of a right as anyone else to your body, belongings, ideas, time and life.
Don’t compromise your values to satisfy someone else.
Be brave. It may be scary at first to stand up for yourself, but it will pay off in the end when you feel more comfortable in your relationships, have more confidence and you are not a doormat.
Maintain your limits, even if the other person disapproves. Sometimes people push back, especially if they are used to taking advantage.
Remember, setting limits teaches others how we want to be treated.
So how do I set a boundary? Usually it starts by just saying “no”.
It is important to consider the situation, who is making the request and what the request is. If you are unsure ask for more details, or more time to consider the request.
Communicate your stance. Make sure to tactfully express your feelings, preference or understanding of the situation. Be as respectful, confident and assertive as possible when setting your limit. You don’t need to apologize or be ashamed of setting a boundary. Here are some examples:
I can’t talk right now. When is a good time for me to call you next week and catch up.
I’m not comfortable with hugs. I prefer hand shakes.
Please ask before borrowing my things.
I’d rather not be in the middle of your problem with another person.
Don't be afraid to say "no".
Assertive communication allows you to stand up for yourself in a respectful way without being aggressive. When using assertive communication, use a firm tone, good eye contact and stick to the facts. State your feelings, and if needed, make a request. Avoid blaming. Using “I” statements, is a good way to practice assertive communication.
Here is the basic structure and an example:
I feel (emotion) when you (behavior). Please (request). Thank you.
Best way: I feel disrespected when you talk over me. Please let me finish my sentence.
Avoid: You talk over me all the time! Can’t you just let me finish?
With a little forethought and practice, setting limits can become second nature. Start by thinking of different people and situations where you may want to communicate your limits, and develop a strategy. Practice with a trusted friend, or in front of a mirror until you feel confident enough to do it in person. Be easy on yourself, it may be hard at first, and that’s okay.
You’ve got this, and your relationships will benefit in the long run.
If this is an area of your life you struggle with, you may also benefit from the help of a therapist or counselor who can help you identify where boundaries should be set, and help you to practice setting limits.
Also, check out my new guided visualization to help you relax, and get you in the right head space to set the limits you need to!
Christy A. George, LMFT Counseling and Consulting
11858 Bernardo Plaza Court, Suite 210
San Diego, CA 92128