Knowledge of what boundaries are, how they are learned and how fear can influence your boundary setting likely led you to the question, “So how do I set and maintain a healthy boundary?”
The first step to setting healthy boundaries is to get extremely clear on the desired boundary (refer back to Fearless Boundaries: Healthy Boundaries for Better Relationships). Ask yourself about your breaking points, obstacles and must-haves in relationships that challenge you.
As a Denver psychologist specializing in dating and relationship therapy, the most effective boundary strategy I regularly share with clients is a 4-step process:
1. Set: As mentioned, setting a clear boundary is often key to long-term relationship success, including the relationship you have with yourself. When you set boundaries with others, visualize your ideal situation, in which your values, feelings and goals are upheld. Imagine the imaginary line that you want to surround yourself with (emotionally and physically) and what it might look and feel like to have that imaginary line crossed. Understand and honor your feelings. Align your boundaries with what matters most to you, by upholding your values and ideals.
Communicate your needs calmly and confidently to the other person(s) and assure them that these limits will make you a better friend, lover, parent, or employee. This occurs because when you feel like your boundaries are being respected, you are able to be the best version of yourself. Ask specifically for what you need (e.g., “I need you to ask me for my permission before you volunteer my help”). Ask the other person what they need (e.g., “Is there a time frame in which you would like my answer by?”. Reaffirm that the boundary will positively contribute to the relationship (e.g. “I think that this communication will help us help each other more effectively”). Make the situation a win-win scenario.
Setting healthy boundaries often happens most successfully when we have a strong sense of self-worth and confidence, and can create boundaries that honor our needs as well as the needs of others. Setting healthy limits is giving yourself permission to put yourself first.
2. Expect Push-back: This is key, especially if boundaries were not established clearly from the beginning. It’s normal to experience some push-back from those who have grown accustomed to your undivided attention, despite your personal, competing needs. For example, some toddlers learn to throw a fit in the grocery store when they want something because they have been taught by his/her parent that they receive the desire candy after approximately 2 minutes of tantruming.
The same is true for adults. If someone in your life has come to know that you will eventually give in and not uphold your boundaries, you have taught them to push back against any new boundary you set.
The good news is that each time you set a boundary, you have the opportunity to teach them a different expectation. Anticipate push-back from the individuals who challenge the boundaries in your life as you look to re-establish these healthy expectations. Your relationship may change when you set new boundaries.
When interacting with those most likely to test your boundaries, start implementing change slowly and stay aware of any shifts of balance in your life. Make sure you believe in the boundary you set, or you’ll be more likely to compromise it in highly emotional circumstances.
3. Uphold: Oftentimes, we try to justify reasons to compromise our boundaries, especially for those we love, because we fear they may leave if we don’t tolerate their behavior, even if it’s unaligned with our value system. Clearly set boundaries should not be easily negotiated.
If someone continues to push back against your communicated boundaries, practice calmly responding with a statement such as “I will not stand here and let you talk to me this way; I am going to remove myself from this situation because it feels emotionally damaging. When you are able to speak calmly, let’s circle back on this conversation.” When you let people know that their behavior is unacceptable, it will most likely discontinue. But unless boundaries are immediately enforced, you run the risk that people will not take you seriously.
4. Reinforce: Lack of respect for boundaries is lack of respect, period. When boundaries are consistently challenged, it’s important to recognize that we can’t change people, as much as we like to believe we can, and oftentimes consequences are the best way to reinforce necessary boundaries. Consequences might include taking a break from a relationship with someone who repeatedly disrespects your limits. Sometimes, you have to be strong enough to walk away, discard certain types of behavior, and chose a healthier path.
Creating and enforcing boundaries lets other people know where you stand, and how you expect to be treated. Healthy boundaries are an essential form of self-love.
As a Denver psychologist, I work with individuals to understand the importance of boundaries and support their process of creating and maintaining these personal limits. The result is a higher quality of life, more fulfilling relationships, and a sense of balance.
If you are curious about the role of boundaries in your life, and seek greater balance, contact me to schedule a free consultation.
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