The concept of having “boundaries” has been a trending topic since the dawn of self-help books. And lately, it has become such a common buzzword that it can be tough to cut through the static. Establishing personal boundaries really goes back to emotional wellness 101, but the reality is that setting, maintaining, and honoring boundaries is often easier said than done.
As the holidays approach, there can be an even greater need for boundaries, from finances to family dynamics. We asked the experts at Onsite to help us better understand the need for healthy boundaries — they even shared an essential list of dos and don’ts!
Why Focus on Boundaries?
First things first, what does it mean to set boundaries, and why are they so important?
According to Onsite Guide Madison Lawn, boundaries are a powerful tool for fostering healthy relationships and taking ownership of our lives. But, while boundaries set the stage for protecting our time, energy, mental health, and healthy interpersonal connections, they aren’t always simple to set or stick to, and they sometimes come with a stigma attached.
“We often feel like they are supposed to be our lines in the sand or the final straw,” explains Madison.”Even the term ‘boundaries’ conjures the image of walls or borders that are meant to keep others out. But that’s only part of the equation. A good boundary actually serves to supercharge our ‘yes’ by helping us focus on what’s most important and providing the space for us to give our care and attention to those things.”
“By establishing boundaries, we are able to define the spaces in our lives and regain control over how we allow others to enter them,” she adds. “This can prove to be an incredibly valuable practice in the pursuit of improving our mental and emotional well-being, as well as in crafting more authentic and meaningful connections with those around us.”
The Dos and Don’ts of Boundary-Setting
DO be honest with yourself.
“Setting a boundary starts with getting honest with ourselves,” says Mickenzie. “It’s important to assess the health of a relationship and determine what we might need to live more authentically. Our boundaries are about what we need. They aren’t an indictment against another person. They are our doors into our space on our terms.”
DO communicate, but know that not all boundaries have to be explicitly communicated.
Just because you don’t offer up your boundary aloud doesn’t mean it’s any less important or valid. Sometimes, silent boundaries are equally impactful. “We can have internal boundaries that we hold for ourselves that we never verbally communicate to the other person,” explains Madison.
Some examples include:
- I will attend the party but leave by 9 p.m.
- I will get back to all business calls and emails within 24 business hours.
- I will walk away from conversations around politics.
DO partner with the other person in the relationship to agree on a set of behaviors.
“Healthy boundaries promote safe intimacy and foster stronger relationships,” says Madison. “It seems weird to consider sometimes, perhaps even counterintuitive, but establishing boundaries can help nourish closer relationships in our circles. This is because healthy boundaries are not crafted out of malice or spite and have nothing to do with the receiver’s worthiness of our time and affection. Instead, they are a reflection of our capacity to give and hold space for others while maintaining our own mental and emotional well-being.”
She adds that in relationships where two people are able to partner with one another to agree on a set of behaviors, it allows them to communicate and align around expectations.
Examples might include:
- We do engage in constructive conversation; we don’t yell.
- We do celebrate holidays together; we don’t talk about politics.
- We do call when there’s an emergency; we don’t call after business hours for things that can be solved tomorrow.
DO use if/then statements when the situation calls for it.
“These are the boundaries we use to create distance for safety once a problem arises,” says Madison. “These boundaries can often feel like ultimatums. However, so long as our ‘then’ is designed to provide us with safety and not to control the other party or parties involved, they are not actually ultimatums but rather a bid for connection and safety for ourselves. Furthermore, crafting these boundaries and communicating them effectively is important.”
A few examples of if/then phrases include:
- If you continue to yell, then I will leave the room until you calm down.
- If you choose to talk about politics, then I am going to leave the conversation.
- If you continue to call me for non-urgent matters outside of business hours, then I will stop answering your calls.
DO assess what is needed to maintain safety and connection.
“When our boundaries are crossed, it’s important to be honest with ourselves and assess what is needed to maintain safety and connection. We can do this kindly, firmly, and with resolve,” says Madison. “Sometimes a boundary is crossed because someone else didn’t respect a clear expectation, and this will need to be addressed. But sometimes, our boundaries are too easily crossed because we are the first to abandon them when there’s pushback.”
“These weaker boundaries corrode easily, often because we feel anxiety or stress over enforcing them, we lack the fortitude to do so, or we do not see them as vital to our well-being,” adds Madison. “Instead, we treat them more like desires for how we would like things to be without being able to bring these desires into reality.”
DON’T use manipulative language.
Being direct about what you need is crucial. Beating around the bush or using passive-aggressive language is not helpful when setting boundaries. “The goal of a good boundary isn’t to get what one of us wants at the expense of the other,” says Mickenzie, “It is to create the safety and connection we have both agreed are important to us. We can often use boundaries as ultimatums, so it’s important to avoid language that could be compulsory or manipulative.”
DON’T mistake a lack of boundaries for being easygoing.
If you have a confrontational personality or a tendency towards people-pleasing, it can be tempting to sacrifice your own needs in an attempt to go with the flow, to not make waves. But, ultimately, that doesn’t serve you or your relationships.
“Not setting boundaries has emotional, physical, mental, and relational consequences,” says Madison. “There is a toll that comes when we exist in relationships and spaces that are unsafe, draining, and unhealthy. We may think we’re being helpful, selfless, and staying open, but in reality, we are closing ourselves off, people-pleasing, and opening ourselves up to conditional love.”
Misconceptions Around Setting Boundaries
One of the major misconceptions when it comes to boundaries is the notion that once we’ve set a boundary, it’s a done deal.
Mickenzie Vought, Onsite’s Editorial and Community Director tells us, “Many of us believe that once a boundary is set, it is unchanging, immovable, or nonnegotiable. This misconception often keeps us from setting boundaries in the first place, but it also keeps us from revisiting boundaries after we set them when seasons change, the relationship changes, or our needs change.”
“Boundaries can change and evolve just like we do,” adds Mickenzie. “It’s important to revisit the boundaries we set to ensure they are still serving us and others.”
If you’re looking for additional help or support surrounding setting personal boundaries, Onsite offers a variety of programs dedicated to mental health and emotional well-being. Madison Lawn is the facilitator of Onsite’s newest emotional health master class, Establishing Boundaries: Creating the Physical, Mental, and Relational Space You Need to Thrive. (Register by December 18 for 30% off!)
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