Whether it’s your relationships with your co-workers, your significant other, your family, or your friends, it’s important to establish healthy boundaries to make them successful. If you don’t, your relationships may make you uncomfortable and your health and wellness may suffer.
When you have relationships with clear boundaries, you’re able to protect your time, your energy, your heart and your body.
Maybe a co-worker wants you to cover a shift and you feel pressured to say yes. Perhaps a family member criticizes aspects of your lifestyle in front of others, but you don’t feel comfortable speaking up. Maybe your significant other expects you to spend all your time together even when you’d like some time to yourself. These are examples of relationships that would benefit from setting healthy boundaries.
Check out this article to learn more about setting healthy boundaries, why it matters and how to do it successfully.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Boundaries are limits you set for yourself and others to help you navigate your relationships. According to the National Library of Medicine, an emotional or interpersonal boundary is the necessary space between people that allows for a sense of individuality and separateness essential for the development of a healthy person. When you communicate your needs and expectations to others, you let them know what your personal boundaries are. It sets up how you want to be treated and allows you to honor yourself and your health and well-being.
When your boundaries are respected, you can feel safe, respected and confident within your relationships. However, when your boundaries aren’t respected, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed, resentful and frustrated.
Establishing healthy boundaries is important for all different relationships in our lives, including our partner or spouse, family members, friends and co-workers.
Why Do Healthy Boundaries Matter?
According to an article from the Cleveland Clinic, when you have relationships with healthy boundaries, you’re able to protect your time, your energy, your heart, and your body. Here are some of the potential benefits of having boundaries in place:
- You can prevent people from taking advantage of you.
- It helps you establish your own identity.
- It promotes healthy and open relationships.
- You can prevent people from manipulating you.
- It can help you say no when you need to.
- You can build your self-esteem and protect your emotional, physical and mental health.
When you don’t have healthy boundaries, your health and wellness may suffer. You may have feelings of anger or resentment toward different people in your life. You may put yourself and your own feelings on the back burner to protect others.
If you’re wondering which camp you’re in, here are some signs you may have difficulty establishing boundaries:
- You’re dependent on other people’s opinions to feel good about yourself.
- You have difficulty saying no to others.
- You say yes to please others at your own expense.
- You accept disrespect or abuse because you don’t want to cause conflict.
- You compromise your opinions and values for the sake of others.
- You often feel like you’re being taken advantage of (physically, emotionally or financially).
- You feel guilty when you don’t make everyone around you happy.
- You worry about confrontation, so put your own needs aside to avoid it.
Many of these signs are described in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregiver Support resource, along with additional tips for setting boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries allows you to feel safe and satisfied, but it takes work. Boundaries require clear communication and consistency. Check out the tips below to learn how to get started.
How Can You Establish Healthy Boundaries?
- Evaluate your core beliefs and ideas. What do you need to be happy? To feel safe? What amount of time or energy is right for you to place in certain relationships? Being aware of what you’re comfortable with and what you need to feel good helps you know when someone is crossing the line. For example, if you need some time alone on the weekends to recharge, it’s important that you don’t allow yourself to be guilted into spending every second around your family and friends.
- Listen to yourself. If you still aren’t sure what boundaries you need, listen to yourself. For example, if you find yourself getting angry at your significant other for scrolling through your text messages, listen to that emotion. If you leave a family gathering exhausted from hearing why your lifestyle choices are wrong, listen to that emotion. Your emotions are letting you know your boundaries are being crossed.
- Express your feelings. Boundaries are invisible, and the people in your life don’t necessarily know when they’re crossing yours. Be open and transparent. Communicate your boundaries in an assertive and respectful way and allow people a chance to honor them. For example, maybe you harbor resentment toward your boss because you’re always responding to emails and phone calls on the weekend. But have you told your boss that you don’t want to work on the weekend? If not, you haven’t expressed your feelings and allowed your boss a chance to respond.
- Be OK saying no. Setting boundaries often requires you to use the word “no.” It might be “No, I am not able to work this weekend” or “No, I can’t loan you money.” If you’re not used to saying no, it can feel strange at first, but you don’t have to feel guilty or justify yourself. No is enough.
- Evaluate your relationships. Which ones bring you joy? Which ones tend to leave you feeling drained? Are there certain relationships that feel unbalanced or unequal? Take a good look at your relationships and be willing to end them if your boundaries aren’t being respected.
- Reinforce your boundaries. If you’re new to establishing boundaries and speaking up for yourself, it may take a little while for it to feel normal – for you and for others. Reinforce your boundaries in a consistent way and keep at it.
- Practice self-love. When setting your boundaries, you’re saying that you know your worth and you want to feel respected. If you don’t feel worthy, you may allow people to overstep. Find ways to take care of yourself and work on loving yourself.
- Get support. If you’re not used to setting boundaries, it may seem easier just to keep things the way they’ve always been. If you feel that way, you may want to seek outside help. You can talk to someone who can help you gain confidence, teach you good communication techniques, and provide you with the tools and techniques you need to develop healthy relationships. Explore VA’s mental health resources to get the support you deserve.
- Walk away. If you clearly communicate your boundaries and repeat them in a consistent way, it’s OK to walk away from people that don’t respect them.
- Recognize and respect the boundaries of others. It’s just as important to respect the boundaries of others. If you’re unsure about someone’s boundaries, make sure you communicate. You can ask things like: Is it OK if I ________? Or Are you comfortable with __________?
- If you have children or teenagers, Youth.gov offers a lot of great resources to help you teach your children about healthy and unhealthy relationships.
- If your boundaries are being crossed by your significant other, you may need additional assistance and support. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides a wealth of resources to help you take steps to protect yourself. In addition, the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program through VA helps Veterans and their families who are impacted by physical, emotional and sexual violence, regardless of whether it has happened once or many times.
- An article on MedlinePlus entitled How to Improve Mental Health offers a lot of resources related to relationships, friendships, self-esteem, emotional wellness and more.
Setting boundaries can be difficult, but it’s worth it. You deserve to feel safe and respected in all of your relationships.