Boundaries are basic guidelines that people create to establish how others should behave around them, including what actions are okay, what are not, and how to respond if someone breaches those limitations. Whether you are interacting with a work colleague or a romantic partner, boundaries ensure that the relationship progresses smoothly and safely.
However, there will always be instances when you encounter people who will make you feel that your boundaries are being violated. It may be a stranger who stands too close to you or touches you (physical boundary). Or a family member who constantly pressures you to do favors for them (emotional boundary). Perhaps you experience bullying at school or in the workplace (mental boundary). These disregard for your boundaries can leave you feeling confused, anxious, drained, and stressed. We asked psychologist Ria Tirazona, RPsy, of Psych Consult Inc. to suggest ways you can build better boundaries and maintain them:
- Know yourself. “When setting boundaries, it’s important to know what you’re capable of,” Ria says. This means taking the time to identify your physical, emotional, and mental thresholds. What actions can you tolerate? What makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed?
Also note that while some thresholds need to be clearly defined (i.e. those that align with your core values and beliefs), Ria assures that boundaries are allowed to be fluid in other circumstances. “It may depend on your capacity at the moment, the resources that you have, or how much you’ve evolved since you’ve set that first boundary.” For example, you may have made it a policy not to ‘friend’ co-workers on social media when you are new to the company; but once time passes and you develop a better relationship with them, it’s okay to deviate from your original limit.
- Communicate honestly, openly, and mindfully with others. When someone does something that makes you uncomfortable, let them know right away by using “I” statements, such as “I feel __ when you do ____.” “This way, you are responding and not reacting to the emotions that you feel when your boundaries are pushed,” she explains. Doing this does not put the other party on the defensive, and will hopefully lead to a conversation on what both of you can do to create a healthier boundary.
If all attempts at communication fail, a simple but firm “No” is always an option anytime someone does something to you that you don’t like. If you are being abused or harassed, report the incident right away to the relevant authorities.
- Make your boundaries known from the very start. “This can be especially difficult to do when you are in the honeymoon stage of a romantic relationship, or when you are new to a workplace and want to fit in,” Ria points out. “But if we don’t communicate our boundaries right away, it sets the stage for miscommunication down the line.”
- Don’t be concerned with what others will think. Remember that you are not responsible for the other person’s response. Know that if you break your own boundaries because you are scared of the other person’s reaction (especially that of a romantic partner), that is a HUGE red flag and deserves another topic of discussion altogether. In a healthy relationship, you should never feel afraid of the reactions of the other person.
- “Train” people to behave in the way you want them to treat you. “If you are always saying ‘yes,’ you are letting others know they have permission to walk all over you,” Ria points out. In the same way, don’t text people about work matters late at night if you don’t want the same to be done to you. “When you respect and reinforce other people’s boundaries, it will be easier for you to respect and reinforce your own,” Ria adds.
- Be patient. Establishing boundaries (and communicating these to others) takes time. In the same way that we don’t develop unhealthy boundaries overnight, we don’t develop healthy ones right away either. “Make sure to practice self-care,” Ria advises. “If you are rested, your thinking mind is clear and you can communicate better.” Also, building better boundaries is a process that requires a willingness to learn and grow. “Be creative and curious about the world around you, because those will contribute to the flexibility and openness that you will need to adjust your boundaries when circumstances call for it,” she says.
Good boundaries not only show emotional health and self-respect, they also ensure that the relationships we are in are mutually respectful, supportive, and caring.”
Written by Jac of MindNation