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Setting Solid Boundaries in 3 Steps

Nov 24, 2022

Boundaries are much needed in any relationship. They help us communicate the types of behaviors we are or are not willing to tolerate. This not only shapes the actions of those around us, but it communicates to our inner child that we are here to protect him/her/them.

If we do not have clear boundaries, the result can greatly affect our own mental health, resulting in:

  • signing up for tasks we do not wish to complete
  • tolerating insults, negativity, and toxic behaviors
  • being around people we do not wish to see, and
  • acting as if a situation is “ok”, when really it is hurtful or harmful 

The practice of setting boundaries can be intimidating at first, especially if this is a new skill for you. Luckily, I have taught many of my patients 3 steps to setting boundaries in a way that is clear and simple.

  1. Clearly communicate your boundary:
    •  Know ahead of time what your boundary is and say to the person(s) exactly what behaviors you want them to do, or refrain from doing.
    • It is best to communicate your boundary at a time when you are both calm and they are not currently trying to cross that boundary.
    • Example: “When you talk disparagingly about my mother, I feel super angry. Please do not speak that way about her anymore.”
  2. Calmly remind them of your boundary:
    •  If/when the person acts in the manner you told them not to, it is important to verbally set the boundary again, and let them know what you will do if the boundary is not honored
    • Example: “Remember when I asked you not to speak about my mother that way? I meant it. Please stop, or I’ll have to end this call (or conversation, etc.).”
  3. Take action to ensure your boundary is honored:
    •  Follow-through on the action above you stated you would take
    • It is extremely important that you follow through immediately on taking the action you say you’ll take. If you only make empty threats, the person will no longer take you seriously, and it will be harder to set boundaries in the future!

 After you have communicated and set your boundary with someone, two things usually happen:

  1. The other person has an emotional and/or behavioral reaction, and
  2. You/ your parts of self have an emotional and/or behavioral reaction

It is very common for the people with whom we are setting our limits to react emotionally, rather than rationally, to this new way of interacting.

Often, we fall into certain roles within others’ lives, and they expect us to continue to fulfill that role. Even our families expect us to play a certain role, and often become angry, upset, or confrontational if we decide to step out of that expectation.

This pattern, or even the perception that this pattern is taking place, can make us feel uncomfortable and small. It may cause us to explain ourselves, acquiesce our boundaries, or feel anxious, scared, or sad. 

But the most important thing you can do for yourself is to hold your boundary, and cope with the thoughts and emotions that come up afterward. The path to healthy mental functioning is not an easy one, but by setting boundaries and supporting your inner parts of self, you will be well on your way to a happier, healthier you!