“You must change how you react to people before you can change how you interact with them”
– Rick Kirschner
Below is a cheat sheet on simple steps to building better boundaries. I have compiled this list as a quick reminder for how to set limits in your closest relationships. Let this serve as a reference for when you need to be reminded of this when the going gets tough.
1. Know your limits. You won’t be able to set boundaries if you have no idea where you stand. One way to understand what your limits are is to start listening to what makes you feel uncomfortable and resentful. Those feelings offer hints around what boundaries to set.
2. Be firm. Maintaining boundaries sometimes requires having direct conversations with the people in your life. In your intimate relationships, in particular, you need to talk about what you accept and don’t accept. It’s important that you speak up and be firm about your boundaries, especially if they’ve been crossed or violated.
3. Know that you’re worthy. Self-doubt will stop you from setting the boundaries you deserve. You might fear how the other person will respond if you set and stick to your boundaries, or you may believe that if you’re firm about holding your boundaries, the other person will reject or leave you. I used to feel guilty speaking up or saying no to a family member. I always felt that I should be able to manage any situation and thought saying yes all the time made me the perfect sister, cousin, daughter, and friend. It didn’t work. I burned out. Know that you deserve to have your own life and way of thinking. You are worthy and deserving of respect.
4. Change your role in your relationships. The role you play in your relationships might be keeping you engaging in people-pleasing behaviors without setting boundaries. When you always play the role of caretaker, you hyper-focus on others, putting yourself last. It becomes normal for you to ignore your own needs. When you start setting boundaries, you might get some pushback from the people in your life who’ve come to have certain expectations of you. But you must remember that it’s okay to set boundaries and change your role in your relationships. You can still be caring and loving, just not at your own expense.
5. Make time for yourself. Give yourself permission to prioritize caring for yourself. When you put yourself first, you’ll become more motivated to set the proper boundaries, because you’ll no longer want to accept what doesn’t work for you. Making time for yourself includes understanding the importance of your feelings and valuing them just as much as you value others.
6. Apply the boundaries. It’s one thing to talk about setting boundaries but quite another to actually apply them. We want people—especially our partners—to be mind readers, but that isn’t the case. In fact, that type of thinking will get us into trouble. If someone has hurt you, it’s important that you speak up about it in a calm, firm, and rational way. Most people think they only have two options: scream at the person who upset them, or not say anything at all. But there’s a third option. In a respectful way, tell the person what bothered you and how you can work together to address the issue. This is a life-long project, and it will never be perfected. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it seamlessly every time.
7. Don’t expect to become a master at setting boundaries overnight. I’d be lying if I told you I have perfect boundaries in all my relationships and always perfectly communicate how I feel when I am upset. It takes a lot of practice to communicate your boundaries, and just when you think you have it down, something new comes up that really challenges you. You don’t have to do it all at once, like setting boundaries with everyone at the same time. You can start small by setting boundaries with people you think will be more accepting, then work your way up to the more difficult people in your life. At first it takes strength to set boundaries, but over time and with practice, it can be mastered.
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier