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Six Tips for Setting Strong Personal Boundaries

Learning to say no when you want to will help you develop quality interactions.

Key points

  • Knowing your values will help you to set clear boundaries.
  • A pause will allow you to know definitively the answer you want to give.
  • When setting a boundary, be clear and firm.
  • Setting and maintaining strong personal boundaries contributes to feelings of self-worth.
Vinzent Weinbeer/Pixabay
Setting boundaries can start with saying, "No," to what you don't want.
Source: Vinzent Weinbeer/Pixabay

Setting strong personal boundaries is important for both establishing and protecting mental health. Limits as to what we will do and how we will be treated help us maintain healthy relationships. Here are six tips for setting solid boundaries.

Recognize that you deserve to have boundaries and be treated respectfully.

One reason that we fail to set or hold personal boundaries is the erroneous belief that we don’t deserve them. There is no character trait or belief that you hold that makes you undeserving of being treated with dignity and respect. Someone may not like you, but all human beings have the inherent quality of humanity. If someone treats you with less than common courtesy, you have the right to point that out and to expect to be treated considerately.

There is a story of a person who boards an airplane and demands of the flight attendant that their seat be changed. In some tellings, the person complains that their seatmate is a person of color or overweight or is from a religious tradition that is not to their liking. The flight attendant agrees that the situation is intolerable—and then moves the seatmate, who to this point has done nothing other than accept the complainant’s vitriol, to first class.

You deserve to be treated with respect.

Know your limits and values.

You are under no obligation to do anything for anyone. By knowing your personal limits and values, you can make good choices about saying yes to requests that have meaning to you and setting boundaries when people ask you to take actions you’re not comfortable taking. You don’t have to support a coworker’s kid’s fundraiser or take on a volunteer project or vote a certain way because it matters to someone else. You decided how to spend your time. Take actions that matter to you.

Be consistent.

Some people have been taught that “No” is an unacceptable answer, and so they will badger you with the same question over and over until you acquiesce to their request. Hold your ground. Just as you might teach a child that you have made a decision by repeating your answer when hounded, you teach others to respect your boundaries by being consistent. You can even reinforce your boundaries by saying something like, “I have already said that I am unable to fulfill your request. Please stop asking. I find it disrespectful that you are not honoring my answer.”

Say “no” when you want to.

You might be the best person to do a job. You might have more skill than others. You might be perceived as having the time available. You might have more resources than others. None of that matters. If you do not want to do something, say "no." If you focus your time, energy, and resources on the activities and people that have value to you, you will develop more self-respect and enthusiasm for the activities you decide to take on.

It's flattering to be asked, but a request does not come with an obligation to accept.

Pay attention to your needs and feelings.

One of the ways we overcommit is by not paying attention to our needs and feelings when our boundaries are pushed or breached. We can potentially worsen depression, anxiety, or feelings of low-self-worth by disregarding our feelings. What you feel and want in your life matters. Listen to your gut when someone approaches you with a request or treats you in a way that is inappropriate to you.

Communicate clearly and assertively.

If you want someone to respect your boundaries, state what you require clearly. You do not owe an explanation. It is inappropriate for you to be hounded or abused. Your response could be anything from, “I quit,” to “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not willing to take that project on,” to, “I said 'no' and I’m not open to discussing your request further.” When you speak with clarity and firmness, you are more likely to have your boundaries respected.

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