Establishing healthy boundaries in life

I love a good boundary! Lately you’ve probably seen the word ‘boundary’ throughout social media – especially linked with the word ‘narcissist’. But what exactly is a boundary? Excellent question! A boundary is like an imaginary line we draw that separates us from others; it dictates what type of behaviour we will tolerate and who we will allow in our world. It acts as a gate keeper for us to have power over how we will be treated. Boundaries are also not absolute – they can move and change depending on situations and environments. For example, you may want nothing to do with person X so you choose to not spend time with them or communicate with them but you will be civil when you see them at functions. Boundaries are not an excuse to get out of one of your responsibilities or to not do your work.

Now that explains what a boundary is but how do we implement these?

A boundary can be as simple as ending a phone call if the person you’re speaking to starts to get aggressive/loud or uses harsh words. It can be only engaging with a family member at family functions and keeping conversation to superficial small talk. Removing yourself from any situation, social or otherwise, where you do not feel respected. Saying no to things that you do not want to do/go to, even though others say you ‘need to’ i.e. family suppers, social get together. Walking away from friendships that tear you down rather than build you up. Limiting interactions with people who are unhealthy and impact your mental well-being. Saying no to helping someone when you’re struggling yourself is a healthy boundary and is okay. Not responding to work after 5:00 PM or on weekends.

Regardless of who a person is in your life they do not have the right to speak to you in a way that you feel disrespected or hurt. A boundary gives you the ability to say that you will not tolerate being treated that way and remove yourself from the conversation or situation.

I am not saying that every time someone says something that hurts your feeling you need to set a boundary – the truth hurts and just because it upsets you does not mean that it’s an unhealthy interaction. You are not going to be happy all the time; there is a difference between a healthy interaction where you feel a negative emotion and an unhealthy interaction (that’s a topic for another day though).

You’ve taken the first step is setting a boundary; great! – Now what?

You can either verbalize your boundary to others or keep it to yourself; you’re setting it for yourself, no one else so you do not need to justify or explain it. Fun fact. No is a complete sentence and does not need an explanation.

With the boundary being new, healthy people will often push, acknowledge it and respect it. Generally unhealthy people will push and test your boundaries – A LOT. When it is being pushed the hardest thing to do is remain strong – hold the boundary firmly in place. It is like the scenario of a toddler saying ‘mom can I have a cookie, mom can I have a cookie, mom can I have a cookie, MOM CAN I HAVE A COOKIE!’ When you give them the cookie they learn ‘okay I only need to ask 4 times until I get what I want’. It’s the same as when you back down from your boundary – people learn how to push or manipulate you so you back down to get their needs met or get what they want. When you hold your boundary people do eventually learn (some longer than others) that they are not going to get what they want and the pushing lessens.

Boundaries are hard and in the beginning; they can feel selfish and like you’re doing something wrong or bad. Be kind to yourself as to you start to implement them into your life. Like anything they require hard work and effort.