“Boundaries are always set. If you don’t set your boundaries the way you want them, people will set them for you. And they will set them in a way that works for them, not for you.” ~ Tomas Svitorka
Do you sometimes feel like people are not respecting your time, your decisions, or your space?
Do you sometimes feel like people are using you or your goodwill?
Do you feel like your personal boundaries are not visible to others or even to yourself?
In this article, you’ll learn how to clarify and reset your boundaries so that people respect them as well as you.
What Are Boundaries and Why We Need Them
Let me draw a little analogy.
Boundaries are all around us. Literally. The walls of your home are boundaries. Walls of buildings, fences and barriers, or borders of countries. Boundaries usually identify areas of governance or possession. That is, with the physical world around us.
Personal boundaries are a bit trickier. The main challenge is that they are not as visible and clear.
But, when personal boundaries are not clearly set, they will be misread, crossed, or breached by others who will intentionally or not invade your personal space, time and your mind. This is a common source of stress, upset, anxiety, fear, frustration, and all the kind of feelings most people don’t want to have.
(Just as it would if someone made themselves a bit too much at home in your own house without permission).
Clear boundaries are essential for any healthy relationship, whether personal or professional and your own mental well-being, happiness, confidence, self-worth and strong identity.
Why do people struggle to maintain their boundaries
There are two main reasons why people struggle to protect and maintain their physical or emotional boundaries.
Lack of clarity
One of the most common reasons is that people are not clear about their boundaries. Then it’s hard to protect them and easy to let other people decide what’s ok and what’s not. If we’re unsure, it’s human nature to follow or comply with those who are more certain or confident.
Lack of courage
The second most common reason is that people don’t communicate their boundaries clearly with others, usually because they fear what they might think or how they might react. They rather compromise themselves, their time or their values than potentially not be liked, upset or even offend others.
If you’d like to learn how to conquer both of these, keep reading.
How to set healthy boundaries others will respect
1. Understand what boundaries are
Most of the time, personal boundaries are not tangible, so others can’t see them.
They usually exist in the form of awareness and understanding between individuals that happens through direct or indirect communication.
Boundaries are thresholds of what we find comfortable, allow, accept, and tolerate.
We have boundaries in most, if not all, areas of our life. Here are a few examples.
Mental boundaries: Freedom to have your own thoughts, values, and opinions.
Emotional boundaries: How emotionally available you are to others.
Time boundaries: How much time you spend with someone or doing something.
Material boundaries: Monetary decisions, giving or lending to others.
Internal boundaries: Self-regulation, energy expanded on self vs others.
Physical boundaries: Privacy, personal space, your body.
Conversational boundaries: Topics you do and do not feel comfortable discussing.
2. Get clear about where your healthy boundaries are
If you don’t know where your boundaries are, it’s hard to communicate and protect them. But clarifying them is not difficult, and one doesn’t need to go through a months-long journey to self-discovery (although I always recommend that).
If you’re reading this article, then I suspect there are some areas of your life where you feel your boundaries are being compromised, or there are specific people who don’t respect your space, opinions, emotions, preferences, decisions, etc.
This should be the perfect time to start clarifying your boundaries.
Here are some questions that will help you.
Q: Are there areas of your life where you feel my boundaries are not being respected?
Q: Are there people who often make you feel uncomfortable because of what they say or because of their expectations and requests?
Think about these questions.
Remember that the exact point where your boundary is being crossed is not always clear. It’s a bit like hot water. Warm is ok. If you start increasing the heat, it may still be fine, at some point it gets uncomfortable but tolerable until it reaches a point where it’s just too much.
3. Start small and build up
If this is the first time you’re intentionally setting boundaries in your personal life with your family, friends or co-workers, it may be a little daunting or even scary. But fear not. You don’t have to start pushing them away or building walls and fences.
You don’t have to go full-blown ‘NO’ right from the start.
The best way to start is to start small and build up from there.
For example, rather than saying a ‘YES’ to things you don’t want to do or agree with, an easy start would be a gentle deflection.
For example, if a friend insists that you go out with them, you can say: “I’d love to, but I’m really busy with work stuff.” Or “I’ve got plans for tonight, sorry!”
I don’t recommend lying, though. Be as truthful as you can be.
People will generally respect serious commitments or obligations.
As you practice setting your boundaries, you’ll be able to push back more firmly, confidently, and with less justification.
4. Communicate your boundaries
You cannot expect people to know your boundaries if you don’t tell them where they are.
From my experience, this is one of the most common sources of frustrations and conflicts when it comes to others crossing your boundaries.
First, you must ask yourself: Are you communicating your boundaries with others?
And I mean, clearly and explicitly, where people understand you don’t like something, don’t want to do something, etc. Sometimes we hope that giving them a hint or a subtle sign will be enough.
Unfortunately, it very often is not. Either because they did not pick up on it or they did and just chose to ignore it.
Be clear and explicit.
5. Use a softener to cushion the pushback
Softeners are phrases you can use when you’re saying something that could be misunderstood or may feel too direct or personal.
Here are a few examples:
Sorry, don’t take this personally…
I don’t want this to come across the wrong way…
I don’t mean to be rude…
I appreciate the offer…
I know you are trying to be helpful/supportive…
And then, you say what you need to say to make your boundary clear.
People tend to receive the “push-back” much better when cushioned with a softener.
6. The power of NO when setting boundaries
There are many different ways how to say NO.
It can be a bare and direct ‘NO’ , or it can also be “packaged” in a whole sentence or reasons and justifications.
As they say, NO is a full sentence. In most cases, you don’t need to justify yourself.
The more you dilute the NO with reasons and justifications, the less powerful it will be and potentially makes people feel you’re swayable to a YES.
People are often afraid of what would happen if they said no. If they opposed or disagreed with others.
Will it upset people? Will it offend them? Will they get angry?
Maybe, but you must understand that you have the right to say NO.
7. Put yourself first, without guilt.
As long as you put others’ needs and requests first, you’ll never be able to be who you really want to be, what you want to do, and what you want to achieve.
The demands of other people will be pulling you in all kinds of directions until you eventually lose the sense of who you are, what you want and what’s important to you.
Sounds dramatic, but that’s how it is.
Putting yourself first may feel selfish at first, but with time you’ll understand how important and freeing it is.
You need to be selfish, so you can be generous.
8. Watch out for manipulators.
You have probably encountered those already.
Manipulators are people who use various psychological or emotional pressures to make or guilt you into doing what you don’t want to do.
Be strong, and don’t give in to this.
They do it because you’ve probably given in in the past or simply because people are typically uncomfortable with that kind of pressure and rather agree.
A few examples may be:
… Ok, up to you. But if you asked me to do this for you, I would do it without hesitation.
… That’s fine. I’ll just go alone and feel awkward the whole time.
I’m sure you’ve heard many others before. (feel free to share them in the comments)
If you notice someone trying to manipulate or guilt trip you (a good indicator that maybe you are actually getting swayed or feeling pressured), then take a moment to re-evaluate what is happening. Even if you need to tell them that you’ll give them an answer later. Buy some time.
Then compose yourself and get back to them with a firm NO.
PRO TIP: If you have someone in your network who is often doing this, I highly recommend bringing it up with them. Otherwise, it will never stop.
9. Get into the habit of setting boundaries early
Once you become clearer about your boundaries and the situations where you need to be clearer about where they are with others, get into the habit of making your boundaries “visible” as soon as possible.
It’s always easier to bring your boundaries closer than re-establishing them and pushing them away.
Think of it as becoming friends with people. It’s easier to gradually deepen the friendship and keep it where you’re comfortable with it rather than letting them think you’re besties and then pushing them away because you’re not feeling that way.
Let people earn your trust, friendship, openness and other wonderful qualities you may have.
10. Respect other people’s boundaries
Finally, once you’ve clarified and established your boundaries at the right place with the right people, you’ve surely learned their value and importance.
In the same way, be mindful and respectful of other people’s boundaries.
Not everybody knows how to or is comfortable communicating them clearly.
I hope this has been useful.
If you have any comments, additional tips or personal experiences you’d like to share, please drop them in the comment section. I’m sure others will find them useful as well.
If you‘d like to get my support through clarifying and re-establishing your boundaries,
then contact me here, and let’s find out if we’d be the right match for coaching.