‘Boundaries’ is a word we throw around casually nowadays as it becomes more mainstream. Maybe you have heard comments like “my resolution this year is to have stronger boundaries” or “better boundaries will help me find more balance in my life”. And, while these comments are true, it’s often difficult to define exactly what “good boundaries” means, especially because they are so unique to the individual.
In a previous post, we defined boundaries as imaginary lines drawn around oneself to protect both the physical and emotional self from the behavior and demands of others. Healthy boundaries are always rooted in your personal values, priorities, and needs.
In this post, we’ll outline how to define your boundaries and ways to communicate them effectively for more fulfillment in your life.
Start with Values
Setting boundaries in your life starts with identifying, accepting, communicating, and upholding limits. Those limits are informed by your values or your standards and principles in life. Begin to form the right boundaries in your life by making a list of your top priorities. Think about how you want to spend your time. Your list might include anything from “enjoying nature” to “time with friends” to “solitude”. Consider what makes you feel alive, fulfilled, and balanced, and start to formulate a list of those activities, environments, or commitments. Items on this list might range from the simple example of “getting 8 hours of sleep” to more bucket list activities like “traveling internationally”. They may also go deeper into “continually growing personally,” “giving of my time to others in need”, “focusing on building emotional intimacy before physical intimacy when dating” or “taking great care of my body, mind and spirit in all things.” Defining these priorities and adding to this list over time as you reflect more regularly can help you truly understand how to turn priorities into boundaries.
Values translate into boundaries, and this alignment can be very satisfying in your life. For example, if one of your top values is “saving money” or “paying down debt” then you can frame your boundaries based on that value. When your friends ask if you’d like to go to dinner and a comedy show over the weekend, it might be appropriate to join them for one or the other in order to uphold your commitment to saving money, knowing that a night out downtown is never inexpensive. Alternatively, you might invite them to your house for a potluck style dinner instead, honoring your boundary and commitment to saving money while still spending time with the people you care about.
Perhaps getting more sleep is a value or commitment in your life. In this case, invitations for evening get-togethers or activities with friends who tend to stay out late might not be the best choice. In making the choice to “say no” to every social invitation, you are both honoring your values and upholding the related boundaries.
Communicating to others
Setting and upholding boundaries can result in a fear of missing out (FOMO), guilt, or even regret. You might feel peer pressured into doing something that isn’t aligned with your values and commitments. The best way to communicate boundaries with others is by sharing more about your related goals and values and asking them to honor your commitments, with conviction. Setting expectations ahead of time is also a good idea. For instance, if you choose to join your friends who tend to stay out late, telling them ahead of time that you are “focused on getting more sleep in your life and will be leaving the gathering by 10pm” helps everyone understand the reason for your actions. Similarly, if you are asked out on a date that starts at 9pm on a weekday, and your value is making healthy decisions to get in 6am workouts, you may communicate this boundary and suggest an earlier start time or a weekend date. When you communicate proactively, no one is left wondering about the motives for your behaviors.
If you are thinking about better boundaries, chances are that you also know that not upholding boundaries can lead to feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Any relationship in your life requires healthy boundaries for success. If you need more support in understanding how your values might inform your boundaries, and how to communicate those to the people closest to you, our team of therapists can help. We often support clients who would like to create healthy, value-rich boundaries and we work together to understand the environments in which they can truly thrive. Contact our team to learn more about how we can help.