Healthy boundaries are essential for everyone. They’re the invisible guardrails that help us prioritize our needs in order to maintain better relationships, a greater sense of self-respect, and a more balanced life overall.
Yet, boundaries can be tricky to consistently implement, especially when it comes to ourselves. We all struggle with how to set boundaries and when to do so, and most of us tend to occasionally let them slip. Whether it’s over-extending ourselves at work, agreeing to something that makes us uncomfortable, allowing toxic people or situations to drain us, or not providing ourselves the space we need for regular rest and self-care, it can happen to the best of us.
As a result, many people I speak to find themselves feeling trapped, exhausted, stressed, anxious, or depressed on a regular basis. If that sounds familiar, it may be time for you to rededicate yourself to self-compassion.
Understanding boundaries — where you may need them and how to assert them in a healthy and productive way — is crucial to stronger relationships and better mental health.
To explore this topic further, read on below.
Why Do Healthy Boundaries Matter?
Healthy boundaries help us stay connected and balanced. They prevent us from becoming overburdened, resentful, detached from those around us, and unmoored from our sense of self.
In simple terms, a boundary is something that helps us keep our own needs and identity separate from the demands of other people, spaces, or priorities. A boundary creates a limit on what we’ll tolerate, and where we draw the line.
We all need our own physical space sometimes, right? Think of the husband who converts the garage into a “man-cave,” or the co-worker who likes to go on long walks alone at lunchtime. In both cases, having those separate physical and emotional spaces allow the people in question to return to their marital or professional obligations with renewed attentiveness.
Of course, some people can take boundaries too far, or assert them in a toxic way.
When a boundary is healthy, it honors and respects not only your own wants and needs, both short- and long-term, but also those of the other people in your life. (Remember, the goal of self-care is to help you be the best possible version of yourself and make you the most proficient at showing up for the things that matter).
On the other hand, unhealthy boundaries often involve a disregard for the perspectives and needs of those around you. Putting yourself first sometimes can be healthy but be careful not to do it at the expense of others or your own long-term best interests. Likewise, you are most effective in asserting your boundaries when you assert them in a clear and unapologetic, but also respectful and calm way.
As with many things in life, it’s a balancing act, and personal intuition does play a role.
What Are Some Examples of Healthy Boundaries?
Understanding your own limitations and needs requires a high level of self-awareness, and there is no single list of universal boundaries that applies to everyone. You are unique, and your boundaries will be, too. However, here are some common examples of healthy boundaries to activate your thinking:
- Saying “no,” and accepting when others say “no”
- Placing realistic limits on your sense of responsibility towards others
- Keeping your thoughts and feelings separate from those of others, and remembering that their thoughts and feelings are just as important
- Maintaining a core sense of identity and self-worth that does not stem from the approval of others
- Understanding what you are and are not comfortable with physically, emotionally, and professionally — and communicating those limits in a clear way
- Identifying when you need physical or emotional space, and unremorsefully taking it
How Do You Start Setting Healthy Boundaries?
Boundary setting doesn’t have to be a mysterious process; it’s a skill that you can develop, just like any other.
Start by listing your “hard limits,” your most important, non-negotiable priorities for how you will be treated by others, and how you will treat yourself. Take some time to consider these priorities and interrogate them to make sure they aren’t coming from a self-destructive place. Think about times in the past when you have felt uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or taken advantage of. Why did you feel that way? What boundary might have helped?
Many of us have certain ingrained emotional hang-ups that might make boundary setting uncomfortable. These can include fear of rejection, confrontation, or abandonment, unwarranted feelings of guilt or inadequacy, safety concerns, or the simple fact that boundary setting may not feel natural due to our social or cultural background. Naming and questioning these reactions can be helpful in reframing our thoughts.
Finally, start small, keep it simple, be consistent, and practice, practice, practice. It may feel awkward or even painful at first. That’s okay — if you are working towards healthy, beneficial goals, it’s okay if it takes some time. Remember, growth isn’t linear. Just keep trying again.
Most importantly, if you need some backup, don’t hesitate to find the support you need. This may take the form of friends and family, a support group or spiritual community, or either a therapist or coach.
If you want help developing actionable strategies to develop your emotional intelligence to effectively manage both yourself and others, contact me to schedule a meeting.