Boundaries are important tools that help us create healthy relationships. They are even important for developing a good relationship with your own self.

How can you can set healthy boundaries, and maintain them for the long run?

What are personal boundaries?

Boundaries provide healthy rules in order to maintain and navigate personal and professional relationships. Setting boundaries helps us conserve our energy.

There are no 'right' and 'wrong' boundaries. We all have different values. Boundaries can, for example, be influenced by the culture we live in.

A study done on American, Chinese and Korean families on the boundaries around talking about family health histories showed that both culture, age, and gender affected what boundaries were seen as acceptable.

An example of setting a personal boundary

An example of setting a boundary would be around time. You might have a friend who calls you daily even though you work from home. In order to set a boundary, you should calmly state that you can only talk to her in the evenings after your work day is finished. You decide what works for you.

Types of boundaries

Not sure if you are lacking boundaries? It can help to learn the four types of boundaries, according to psychologist and author Nina Brown.

Soft

You go along with other people’s preferences and ideas. You might also agree to do things you’re uncomfortable doing, because you don’t really know your own values.

Spongy.

You know how to ask other people to have their needs met but are still unsure of yourself. So you allow others to break your boundaries from time to time.

Rigid.

If your boundaries are rigid, you might not allow anything to come into your world. You might be completely closed off from those around you. This type of boundary is caused by a traumatic experience that scarred you and made you distrusting of other people.

Flexible.

Flexible boundaries are about letting good things in and keeping the bad stuff out. This is the ideal boundary to have. It protects you from unhealthy and manipulative people, but doesn’t stop you from trusting others you want to create new experiences with.

5. Steps to setting healthy boundaries

1. Know you have rights.

Remember the following rights that you and everyone else has in any relationship:

  • You have the right to say no without feeling guilty
  • You have the right to be treated with respect
  • You have the right to make your needs as important as other people’s needs
  • You have the right to not meet others’ unreasonable expectations of you
  • You have the right to be accepting of your mistakes and failures.

This reminder is especially important for those who tend to please others in relationships.

2. Listen to your body.

Check in with your body and see how you feel when you’re in conversation with someone. If you feel tense and anxious it means you either need to set a boundary, or reinforce one that has been crossed.

3. Identify your values.

When you know your values, you can realise when someone disrespects them by overlooking or minimizing them.

For example, if your value is to be in good health and that means no alcohol, but you go out with friends who do drink? If you are sure of your value, you can easily say no to friends without it being a big deal, even if they get tipsy and pressure you to try to join them.

4. Use assertive communication.

Getting angry or defensive when setting a boundary can mean the other person doesn’t respect the boundary but rebels against it.

Statements like ‘I feel...when you..because…’ and ‘What I need is...’ open the doors to healthy communication and a greater chance the other person will take you seriously.

5. Learn about the meaning of ‘no’.

Realize that no is a whole sentence and not a word. You can decline something without giving an explanation.

You have the right to say no to anything you don’t like or find unpleasant. This also means that others have the right to say no to you and reject you, and that’s okay.

Setting healthy boundaries with yourself

Setting boundaries with yourself can gives you more confidence, and helps you trust yourself and your life choices.

This can mean things like dealing with your financial anxiety by setting a budget, or setting boundaries around the amount of time you’ll spend in front of the television.

Can’t set boundaries no matter how hard you try?

If boundaries are very hard for you, and you are consumed by guilt or anxiety each time you say no?

It can relate to a childhood where you were not allowed to be yourself, but were only accepted if you behaved certain ways.

It can also relate to childhood trauma, which decimates a child’s sense of self and agency. Sometimes we need to work on recognising and resolving these past traumas in order to gain the self-esteem to set boundaries.

Time to finally face what stops you from setting healthy boundaries? Book a session now and talk to an online therapist as soon as tomorrow.

Marlena Eva is a mental health and financial writer based in the UK.

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