According to the Oxford Dictionary, a boundary is defined as “a line that marks the limits of an area.” In more straightforward terms, it’s the line you clearly draw so that others know not to cross it. Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships, whether that’s among friends, within the workplace or in a romantic partnership.
Though they can be difficult to navigate, creating and maintaining boundaries is essential to our well-being.
“Setting healthy boundaries requires commitment, courage, discipline,” says Nancy Moonstarr, an interpersonal specialist who works as a licensed psychologist in Washington, D.C., and a licensed professional counselor in Maryland. “Make a commitment to know where you draw the line and set your boundaries. Ask yourself ‘Am I comfortable with this person, thing or situation?’ Your intuition, gut, body and head will tell you yes or no. The answer to this question is a guide to setting up your boundaries.”
Need a little more help getting started? Here are some tips to setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Start with yourself
To create clear boundaries and feel confident in doing so, you need to first believe you're deserving of a healthy relationship. Begin with self-compassion and self-respect and self-love. Try adding positive affirmations to your self-care routine like “I am deserving of healthy relationships” and “I am worthy of love and respect.”
So often we get stuck asking the same questions: Is everyone doing alright? Where am I needed? What do others think of me? The better questions to ask: How am I meeting my needs? Am I taking care of myself in this situation? It will take practice, but in listening to and trusting yourself, you will begin to meet your own needs and establish healthy relationships with the people in your life.
Learn to say no
One of the best ways to begin setting healthy boundaries is to learn to say no to people and situations that are causing you harm. Of course, this will feel uncomfortable at first, but that’s growth. Saying no is not cruel or selfish, but a way of preserving the relationship you have with yourself and putting our own needs before others. Before agreeing to another obligation or task, ask yourself if it aligns with your values. If it’s not an obvious yes, then it’s a no. Sure, saying no can be a challenge if you’re used to people-pleasing, but try it this week. A simple, “Thanks, but I am going to pass,” will do.
When someone behaves in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s your intuition sending up an alert that your boundaries are being crossed, and it’s time for you to speak up for yourself. You can be direct and loving at the same time. Moonstarr says we “must understand it is typically more difficult to voice your standards if you are female.”
“The only one who can set your limits and voice them specifically meeting your standards is you. The other parties deserve to hear what yours are and know you mean business about setting them.” She suggests seeking a trusted advisor, coach, friend, family member or therapist for guidance whenever you need further direction in setting boundaries.