The A to Z of setting the right boundaries

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Boundaries are important to healthy relationships as well as healthy life. Setting the right boundaries and maintaining those boundaries is a skill. Sadly, it is a skill that most of us don’t practice. We might pick up helpful hints here and there from experience or by observing others. However, boundary-building is a fairly new concept and a difficult one for a lot of us.

Psychologist and coach Dana Gionta, PhD, said that setting the right boundaries requires knowing and accepting what your limits are.” Below is some insight into creating and preserving healthier boundaries:

Know the limits

You can’t set good boundaries when you’re unaware of where you are. Define the physical social, mental, and spiritual limits and take into account what you can handle and embrace. Also, what makes you feel uneasy or anxious. “These emotions help us decide what our limits are.”

Awkward situations

Tune in to your emotions

Gionta said that she noticed two primary emotions that are warning signs or indicators that we’re letting go of our boundaries. These emotions include discomfort and anger. She proposed speaking about these emotions on a scale of 1 – 10. In addition, she said 6 – 10on the scale is the higher zone.

If you are at the higher end of this spectrum, Gionta proposed asking yourself during an encounter or in a situation, what is causing that? What is it about this conversation or the expectation of the person that worries me?

Resentment generally comes from being made a fool of or not appreciated. It’s often an indication that we’re pushing ourselves either outside our limits because we feel guilty, or someone else is trying to impose their expectations, viewpoints or values on us, she said. Gionta said If someone behaves in a way that makes you feel awkward, that’s a sign to us that they might be breaking or crossing a boundary.

Be straightforward

Preserving healthy boundaries does not involve an explicit and clear-cut conversation with certain individuals. Generally, this is the case if people are similar in their modes of communication, beliefs, personalities and general outlook on life, Gionta said. They’ll “similarly approach one another.”

You’ll need to be more clear about your limits for others, such as those who have a unique persona or cultural context. Take the following example: “One person feels that it is a healthy means of communicating to challenge someone’s opinions,” but this feels rude and inconsiderate to another person.

There are other moments where you may have to be straightforward. For example, time can become a borderline issue in a romantic relationship, Gionta said. Partners can need to discuss how much time they need to retain their sense of identity as well as how much time they need to spend together.

Give yourself permission

Fear, remorse and self-doubt are major possible pitfalls, Gionta said. We sometimes are scared of the other person’s response while establishing and enforcing our boundaries. By speaking up or saying no to a loved one, we may feel guilty. Many think they should be able to deal with a situation or say yes because they are a good daughter or son, even if they “feel drained or taken advantage of.”

We will often wonder if we even deserve to have boundaries in the first place. Boundaries are not just an indication of a healthy relationship; they are an indication of self-respect. So permit yourself to set the right boundaries and to work to maintain them.

Practice self-awareness

Boundaries are all about sharpening and respecting your emotions. Gionta recommended asking yourself if you find yourself slipping and not upholding your boundaries: What’s changed? Consider “What am I doing, or what is the other person doing?” or What is the resulting condition that makes me resentful or stressed?” “Then, think about your choices: “What am I going to do about the problem? What is it that I have power over? ”

Consider your past and present

How you were trained along with your position in your family can become additional barriers in establishing and maintaining boundaries. If you played the role of caretaker, you learned to concentrate on others, allowing yourself to be drained physically or emotionally, Gionta said. Ignoring your interests might have now become the rule for you. Think of the individuals you surround yourself with too, she said. Are the interactions reciprocal? Has there been a fair give and take?

Also, your environment may be toxic outside your relationships. For example, if your workday is 8 hours a day, but your colleagues stay at least 10 to 11, “there is an implied obligation at work to go over and beyond,” Gionta said. It can be challenging to be the only one, or one of the few struggling to preserve safe boundaries, she said. This is where it becomes important to tune into your thoughts or desires and respect them.

Make self-care a necessity

Gionta encourages her clients to make self-care a priority, which often requires motivating them to put themselves first. When we do this, “our need and determination become greater to establish boundaries, ” she said.  Self-care also involves respecting and upholding the value of your emotions. Such emotions act as “significant signs of our well-being and what makes us happy or sad.”

“Putting yourself first also provides energy, comfort, and a positive attitude to be more active for others and to be there for them. You can be a better wife, mother, partner, co-worker, or friend when you are in a better position.”


Seek help

When you have a tough time with boundaries, seek some help, whether it’s a support group, church, coaching, therapy, or good friends. You can also make it a priority with friends or family to practise setting boundaries together and keep each other accountable.

Consider finding assistance using money, too. Gionta recommends the following books: The Art of Intense Self-Care: Transform your life one month at a time and boundaries in marriage (along with other books on setting the right boundaries by the same writers).

Be assertive

Of course, we know that setting the right boundaries isn’t enough; we really have to follow through. Even though we agree that people aren’t mind readers, we somehow expect others to know what bothers us, Gionta said. Since they do not, when they’ve gone beyond that boundary, it’s necessary to interact assertively with the other person. In a friendly way, let the other individual know what is troubling to you in particular and that you can work together to fix it.

Begin small

Trying to set the right boundaries assertively, like any new skill, requires practice. Gionta recommended beginning with a small boundary that is not threatening to you, then growing to more complicated boundaries progressively. Improve on your success, and try not to take on something that feels daunting.

Setting the right boundaries takes bravery, practice and encouragement to set boundaries and bear in mind that this is an ability you should master.

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