Note: This article on better boundaries is by contributing writer, Tammy Strobel.
In my twenties, setting healthy boundaries wasn’t easy for me. I had a hard time saying no, and tended to put other people’s needs ahead of my own. My inability to set boundaries impacted my work, relationships, health, and how I spent my time. Maybe you can relate?
I changed my habits by seeking support and learning about boundaries. Nedra Glover Tawwab – therapist and bestselling author – defines boundaries as, “Needs that need to be expressed verbally or through your behavior. It can be you saying to a person, ‘I need help with,’ ‘No, I would like more of,’ or ‘Please don’t do this.’ Or it could be you stepping back in a relationship when you stated a boundary.”
With help from authors, like Tawwab, setting boundaries with kindness and compassion became easier for me over time. To be clear: I’m still learning about boundaries. I also have to remind myself that it’s not my job to manage how other people feel about my boundaries. For me, this will be a lifelong project.
In this piece, I’ll share seven steps that continue to help me set boundaries. It’s important to note that the steps below are based on my personal experiences and learnings. If you need extra support, consider talking to a mental health professional.
1. Reflect on your needs
When I began to set boundaries, I reflected on my needs in my journal. I started with my work life, and asked myself questions like:
- What type of schedule would help you feel supported at work?
- How can you prevent burnout?
- How can you communicate with a supervisor who crosses a boundary?
I came up with a list of work-related boundaries that have helped me reduce burnout. Here’s my brief list:
- I don’t check work email on the weekends.
- I take vacation time, and I don’t work on vacation.
- I talk with my supervisors and coworkers about my needs.
Communicating my needs (aka boundaries) at work helped me be a better employee. They also act as a filter in many life spheres. As Dakota Gale said, “I realized that setting boundaries acts as a friend filter to prioritize the people you want in your life.”
2. Try the “Relationship Golden Rule”
Urban goes on to explain, “By setting and holding your own boundaries clearly and kindly, you’ll give others permission to do the same, send the message that you’re a safe person to share their needs and feelings with, and start to shift the communication patterns of your entire group. But remember, you can’t do it for them. The only person’s needs, feelings, and communications you’re responsible for here is you.” Urban’s advice is excellent and has helped me set boundaries with compassion. I also trust my loved ones to do the same.
3. Use clear simple language
Talking about boundaries in simple, clear language is helpful. For example, I’ll say things like:
- Please don’t call me about work tasks or projects after 5pm on weekdays (or on the weekends).
- I’m on a tight budget, so having dinner at that restaurant won’t work for me. Can we explore other options?
- I don’t feel comfortable having difficult conversations via text message. Can we talk on the phone or in-person?
- No thank you. I’m not available.
Using simple language makes communicating a lot easier! I’ve learned that I don’t need to tell an in-depth story to get my needs met.
4. Be consistent
Over time, stating my boundaries has become easier. I struggle with consistency, though. For example, it’s easy for me to say to a supervisor: “Please don’t call me about work tasks or projects after 5pm on weekdays (or on the weekends).” If a supervisor violates my boundary, that’s when I struggle. I know a hard conversation is on the horizon; otherwise the behavior will continue. Hard conversations about boundaries at work are uncomfortable, and essential. Without stating my needs – consistently – I’m prone to burnout.
5. Consider resistance
When I started setting boundaries, I encountered resistance. People weren’t used to me saying “no” and some folks pushed back. However, the more I practice communicating clearly, the better equipped I am to deal with resistance. Relying on clear communication helps people understand my requests.
6. Respect the boundaries of others
I strive to respect the boundaries of my co-workers, family, and friends. For example, I love to send text messages to friends. However, a friend recently shared that she doesn’t enjoy texting back and forth. Moving forward, I will respect her request to text less. We talked about the best ways to stay connected like talking on the phone, having lunch together, or going for long walks in the park.
I’m not a mind reader, so I’m happy she was honest with me. To be true to my values, it’s essential for me to also listen and respect other’s needs; whether they are big or small.
7. Seek support
If you need help setting – and maintaining – boundaries, seek support. Find a therapist, read books, and talk to trusted friends about your struggles. Asking for help can feel vulnerable, and it’s empowering. Without support, I wouldn’t be able to communicate my boundaries with clarity and kindness.
I’ll leave you with some “unsolicited advice” from my friend Dakota:
“BOUNDARIES. Set them. Hold them. Use the feedback signals you get to decide where to invest your energy. I promise your relationships (and life) will improve. As the saying goes, ‘the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind.’”
Do you want to learn more about boundaries? Explore the resource list below:
- Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab is full of helpful stories and tips. If you struggle with boundaries, this book is for you!
- Nedra Glover Tawwab also writes a helpful newsletter about “mental health, relationships, and life.” I’m also a fan of her Instagram posts. They are short, concise, and full of wisdom.