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You Are Enough, So Stick to Your Boundaries

What’s the healthiest decision you can make when setting boundaries?

Key points

  • Setting and sticking to boundaries can be difficult, as there is no "perfect" answer.
  • It can be helpful to notice when your fear of negative outcomes stops you from setting a boundary.
  • When setting a boundary, ask yourself: “What’s the healthiest decision I can make?”
Prateek Katyal / Unsplash
Prateek Katyal / Unsplash

Setting and keeping boundaries can be hard.

Focusing on safety for yourself and others can be a guide, though beyond that it can be hard to know the “right” answer when it comes to boundary setting.

Poor boundaries can have a negative impact on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of yourself and those around. Unhealthy boundaries can result in routinely feeling mistreated and misunderstood in personal and professional relationships. Furthermore, unhealthy boundaries can ultimately jeopardize the safety of you and those around you.

You may have learned to receive approval through placating others and having weak boundaries. You may have heard people close to you badmouth those who have firm boundaries because they are unhappy that they didn’t get what they wanted from them. Or you may have received praise from others when you gave in, even if it came at your own expense.

Consider the following fictional examples and think about what you might do in these situations:

Example 1: Stephanie told her boss she needs to leave work on time today. Her son has a school recital this evening and she promised him that she would attend. In the afternoon, Stephanie’s boss tells her an issue was discovered with the project she has been collaborating on and it needs to be fixed immediately, as it’s due to the CEO first thing tomorrow morning. Stephanie is unsure if she can and should keep the boundary she set to leave work on time.

If you were Stephanie, what would you do and why?

  • You might consider how your son would feel if you missed his recital.
  • You might also consider what your boss, teammates, and CEO will think of you if you stay or leave.
  • Are there other members of your team who could help you fix the issue so you can still get out of work on time?
  • Could you go to the recital and work on the issue afterwards?
  • What considerations would go into your decision making?
    • What are the potential losses and gains for each decision?
    • What is most important?

Example 2: Mark has repeatedly told his friends that he is trying to eat healthier and reduce his alcohol consumption. He has suggested they get together to do activities such as walking in the park, going to the movies, or having a game night. Mark’s friends appear reluctant and have consistently declined attending these activities. Instead, they keep inviting him out to local bars and clubs. Mark is worried he will drink too much alcohol if he goes to these venues, but is not sure what else he can do if his friends don’t seem to want to spend time together elsewhere.

If you were Mark, what would you do and why?

  • You might consider what is causing your friends to seem reluctant toward other activities.
  • What are the potential costs and benefits for you if you go or don’t go to the bar/club?
  • What makes it hard to trust yourself going into a bar/club setting?
  • Are there other ways to spend time together that have yet to be considered?
  • What considerations would go into your decision making?
    • What are the potential losses and gains for each decision?
    • What is most important?

Your relationship with yourself, others, and the world is nuanced and complex. Your individual experiences help shape who you are. They can also help guide you in setting boundaries.

Since there is no “perfect” response for the scenarios above it might be more helpful to consider what the “healthy” choice would be for Stephanie, Mark, and those around them.

How can your boundary have the healthiest impact for yourself and others?

  • In setting firm boundaries at work, Stephanie might start to create a healthy shift in the company’s culture. She might model for her son the importance of following through on commitments to loved ones. Stephanie might model for her colleagues creative thinking and organizational skills where she can contribute offline.
  • Mark may learn that he could benefit from expanding his friend group. He may learn that the potential costs to his health are not something he wants to put at risk. Mark might help create new norms for his friend group if he perseveres in finding other ways to spend time together.

When facing difficulty related to boundary setting, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What’s the healthiest decision I can make?”

It can be helpful to consider what a wise person may do if faced with your situation. It can also be helpful to talk to loved ones, trusted colleagues, and a professional (e.g. mental or physical health clinician).

It can also be helpful to recognize how flexible your boundaries are.

  • Notice with whom you set firm boundaries right away and those you set firmer boundaries with over time.
    • What patterns emerge?
  • Notice when you give grace to some more than others by forgiving them more easily even when they disregard your boundaries.
    • What fuels your tendency to do this?
  • Notice when your worry about negative outcomes stops you from setting a boundary.
    • What toll does this take on your health?

Let the framework of making healthy decisions guide you in setting boundaries.

You are important, worthwhile, and enough, so be courageous and set healthy boundaries.

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