Setting boundaries is a skill worth developing. How often do people agree to things while knowing in their hearts that they’d rather disagree? Or, how many times do we spend time with people who make us feel uncomfortable in some way? The importance of keeping a brave face, being agreeable and getting along is emphasized in subtle and overt ways in our culture. To say no or to disagree, even while being non-confrontational, can be misconstrued. Setting boundaries – limits we establish in our relationships with ourselves and others in order to keep us feeling comfortable and safe – are essential to healthy interactions.
The Beauty of Setting Boundaries
So how do we establish and hold healthy boundaries without pushing away the significant people in our lives? How do we make boundaries beautiful?
The first and most crucial step in establishing boundaries is to know oneself. Think of this knowledge as the foundation upon which your boundaries will rest. Then imagine how easy it will be to hold to boundaries on a stable foundation versus those resting upon one that shifts unexpectedly.
One’s knowledge of self is a process that evolves over time; it is without a start and an end. So try not to set an unrealistic standard of needing to know everything about yourself before establishing boundaries. I suggest starting by answering the following questions with complete honesty:
- What situations or people make me feel uncomfortable or unsafe?
- Conversely, what situations or people make me feel comfortable or safe?
The answers to the first questions will give you some sense of the types of situations and people should exist outside of your boundaries. Your answers to the second question will give you an idea of where to draw boundary lines so that good feelings are contained within them.
You can then drill down in each area a bit more to uncover when you say yes when you mean no, for instance, and why.
To Thine Own Self be True
Shakespeare said it best: To thine own self be true. This simple statement can manifest itself in many ways in our lives. When distilled down to its very essence, though, I think it means that we need to trust our feelings, know what makes us feel safe and act in appropriate ways to live a life that is in alignment with our core values and needs.
By knowing ourselves we make it possible to be true to ourselves. We’re less likely to agree to something that will put us in a compromised emotional or physical state, and we’re more apt to be sensitive to the needs of others while taking care of ourselves. Therefore, being true to ourselves allows us to be good to others.
Boundaries in Action
Here are a few examples of how to put boundaries into action:
- Create a personal policy regarding phone usage. For instance, tell your friends and family that you only answer your phone when you’re available to talk. Then, adhere to your own policy.
- Establish the number of hours of sleep you need each night and tell other people in your household what you need to achieve it (i.e., quiet hours, dinner finished by a certain time, etc.).
- Determine what qualities you want in others with whom you have relationships, and those qualities you do not want. Lovingly detach from those people in your life who don’t meet your criteria, and seek people who do.
Setting boundaries can be a simple, sustainable and effective way to create and maintain your emotional wellness. The hard part is getting started, keeping that our boundaries do not give us license to judge others. The goal of boundaries is to create a “safety zone” for yourself without harming others. It’s a balancing act, but one well worth an investment of your time and energy.
Catherine Mason is a writer, former educator, and someone who has multiple food allergies. As Tribe Leader & Chief Wellness Coach at www.mydietribe.com, she helps people identify, assimilate and maintain sustainable health and wellness practices in their everyday lives, with a focus on physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and financial wellness. Catherine may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@mydietribe).
What are some healthy boundaries you have established for yourself, or witnessed in others? How have setting boundaries improved the emotional well-being of you and others?