Boundaries are essential for good relationships, a healthy happy mind and an important foundation pillar of good social wellness and wellbeing. In the 8WiseTM Programme we spend a lot of time helping people to learn how to set clear boundaries in order to reduce misunderstandings and develop better relationships.
But, as we all know, setting boundaries isn’t always easy, especially if you believe everyone else’s needs are more important than your own. Putting boundaries in place can also be difficult if you experience domineering and disrespectful people in different facets of your life, so I want to help you set those clear boundaries in your life in 8 wise ways.
But let’s start right at the beginning – What are boundaries?
In a nutshell they are limits and guidelines that clarify how you behave towards other people and how you accept being treated by the people in your life in return. It is about drawing a line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in your relationships, whether they be plutonic, professional or intimate.
Ultimately you can set whatever boundaries you want for yourself but as a starting point to work from here are the eight most common ones:
- Emotional boundaries around your feelings and emotions.
Example: Only sharing deep or difficult feelings with someone when you’ve known them for a while and consider them to be a friend.
- Financial/material boundaries around your money and possessions.
Example: Not lending money to anyone outside of your family.
- Physical boundaries around your personal space and body.
Example: Not hugging or kissing anyone who isn’t a partner or close friend.
- Sexual boundaries around sex, flirtation, and sexual humour.
Example: Only having a sexual relationship with someone when you’ve both agreed to stop dating other people.
- Mental/intellectual boundaries around your beliefs and thoughts.
Example: Avoiding discussions about religion at family gatherings.
- Time boundaries around how you spend your time.
Example: Keeping Wednesday evenings free for alone time.
- Ethical boundaries around your morals.
Example: Refusing to tell lies, break the law, or cover for other people.
- Digital boundaries around online activity and communication.
Example: Keeping social media profiles set to “private.”
Boundaries can be fixed and rigid, or more flexible, depending on the situation and the people involved. You may apply some boundaries to some types of relationships but not others – the choice is yours. But what is really important is knowing how to set them in the first place, so here are some simple tips to help you do just that.
1. Decide what your personal boundaries are
To set a boundary, you need to decide what you need and want from other people. This can be challenging if you are used to putting everyone else’s needs first. You might want to spend some time reflecting on what makes you feel happy in a relationship and what makes you feel uncomfortable. Self-reflection and self-awareness are crucial life skills to lean for developing optimal mental health and wellbeing. Journaling is a key activity for this (you can access the 12-Week 8Wise Journal here)
2. Try using I-statements when setting boundaries
You-statements, such as “You always…” or “You never…” can come across as attacking or aggressive. I-statements might seem less confrontational.
When you set a boundary using an I-statement, spell out exactly what you feel and why. You can then ask the other person to act differently in the future.
An example of this might be, instead of saying, “You make fun of my weight, and I don’t like it,” you could say, “I feel embarrassed and sad when you make jokes about my weight. Please don’t make any more jokes about my weight, shape or body size again.”
3. Avoid justifying yourself
When you set a boundary, do not get drawn into a conversation about your reasons. People who question or try to undermine your personal boundaries are probably not interested in a genuine, respectful discussion about your feelings.
Instead, try the broken record technique. Simply repeat your boundary, using the exact same tone of voice, until the other person backs off.
4. Show empathy for the other person
When setting a boundary with someone who usually has your best interests at heart, it may help to show that you value their point of view and ideas. Sometimes people come across as controlling or interfering because they are trying to help, albeit in a clumsy way. If someone oversteps a boundary but is generally kind and loving, you can give them the benefit of the doubt.
For example, let’s say that your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to help you find a new job and without asking for your input or permission, share your CV with some friends who have their own business. They thought it would be a nice surprise, but you feel as though they’ve crossed a line because you don’t want anyone else to decide how and when you will move in in your career.
In this case, you could say, “I really appreciate that you care about my career and want to support me. But I don’t want anyone else to make decisions about my next professional role. In the future, please share your ideas with me instead of just going ahead.”
5. Set boundaries early
It’s usually easier to set boundaries earlier rather than later in a relationship. This approach helps you and the other person figure out whether you are compatible as friends or potential partners.
For example, let’s say you are getting to know someone who is very open about their life. They feel comfortable talking about almost anything, including personal issues, such as their mental health or the state of their marriage and sex life. Your new friend also likes to ask you very personal questions and encourages you to share everything with them.
If you are naturally a private person who takes a long time to open up, these conversations might make you feel uneasy. In this situation, you could make your boundaries around sharing clear by saying something like, “I’m not comfortable talking about intimate things like sex or mental health until I’ve known someone for a long time.”
Setting out a boundary in this way gives the other person a choice. They can choose to respect your boundaries, talk about lighter topics, and wait until you’re closer before asking you personal questions. Alternatively, they might decide that your personalities just aren’t a good fit and distance themselves. It also works the other way around: depending on their response, you might realize that you aren’t compatible.
6. Tell people when your boundaries change
If you need to change a boundary, spell it out clearly to avoid confusion or hurt feelings.
For example, let’s say you used to have a lot of late-night conversations with your friend when you were a student. But now that you have to work long hours at a job, you’ve decided to set a new boundary: you won’t reply to texts past 10 p.m.
You might say to your friend, “Just to let you know, I can’t reply to late-night texts anymore. I kept my notifications switched on most of the time when I was in college because it didn’t matter when I went to bed. But now that I have a regular job, I turn them off at about 10 p.m. because I need to be up early in the morning.”
7. Ask a friend for support
If you need to set a boundary with someone who intimidates you, it might help to get some support from a friend. Your friend doesn’t need to say anything. It may be enough to have them in the room. For example, if you want to have a difficult conversation with a parent about your boundaries over the phone, your friend could sit next to you during the call.
8. Start by taking small steps
Setting boundaries may become easier with time and practice. It may help to start by taking small steps with people you trust. For example, let’s say you have a close friend who tends to talk for hours on the phone. When they next call, you could set a boundary by telling them you can only stay on the phone for 30 minutes, then politely end the phone when the time is up.
Remember, just because you set boundaries it doesn’t mean that everyone will follow them or resect them. For some people it may take time and for others they may simply not want to change. Both is OK you just have to decide what the outcome is for someone who continuously ignores your boundaries and don’t see it as a sign to change your boundaries – resect yourself and the lines you draw with regards to what is acceptable to you and what is not. Always be true to yourself and what matters to you. The right people will follow you in that and respect for it too.
If you would like to book an 8WiseTM session or register for our next 8WiseTM Wellness Programme cohort, get in touch today.
For more information on 8WiseTM and the mental health services provided check out the website: 8wise.co.uk.