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Setting Boundaries Efficiently

How to identify and set boundaries in your relationships.

Why does setting boundaries feel so daunting? For one, because there is a stigma that setting boundaries comes off as rude and selfish. Personally, I don’t find it rude in the slightest. Is it selfish? Sure, putting your needs first does include thinking of yourself, but there's nothing unhealthy about that.

Boundaries are limits and needs you express to yourself and others in order to feel safe, healthy, and comfortable. These are especially important in relationships and the big key to that is communication. If you don’t have established communication in any relationship, then setting a boundary can be hard. If you create a dialogue of open communication, setting boundaries will feel easier and go much more smoothly.

Setting Boundaries
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There are a lot of different types of boundaries we set including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and digital boundaries. Saying no to an invitation or request can be a boundary all in itself, as discussed on the podcast “Boundary Hunter.” The host Ella Dove shares how she’s always had trouble saying no to work tasks and social events to the point she has felt burnt out. (If you’ve felt this way before, I highly suggest checking the podcast out.)

I’ve personally been told before that I have more boundaries than the average person. As a therapist, I don’t think I could function without them. I have to set boundaries with my clients and myself on a daily basis. It is a huge part of my job, and something I like to model for my clients.

As a couples counselor, I get to help couples navigate discussions on identifying and setting boundaries. I like that it’s a negotiation—we can’t demand boundaries of others; we can only ask them. If someone doesn’t follow through or refuses them, that can be the hardest part of setting boundaries. In order for it to become a boundary, you have to follow through and be consistent, otherwise, it is just a threat. “I won’t talk to you if you yell at me” has to be executed or it teaches the other person you don’t mean what you say.

Some good tips to prepare yourself for setting boundaries:

  • Identify them before setting them. Be ready to explain what you mean and what that will look like when put into action.
  • Talk to a therapist about your needs and limits to process why they are so important to you. A therapist can help you identify things that are hard to see on your own.
  • Prepare yourself for the follow-through if the needs aren’t met. Is there any flexibility? How will you react if an agreed-upon boundary is broken?
  • Explain your boundary openly in a calm way with the other person. Leave space for them to react and ask questions.
  • Sometimes, setting boundaries can lead to negotiation. Remember to stick to your core needs, but be open to meeting the other person’s boundaries.
  • If either person gets flooded, take a break from the conversation and come back to it when calm. Boundaries can sometimes trigger hard feelings.
  • If you get stuck, reach out to a therapist for family therapy. You can bring any loved one to a family session to work on boundary issues.

I also highly recommend a boundaries check-in periodically. It can be easy to let them slip, so setting aside a formal time to check in with yourself can give an opportunity to evaluate how they have been going and if you need to readdress any with the other person. If things are going well, it can be nice to provide that feedback, “Thanks for adjusting to my boundary; it has really reduced my anxiety.”

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Kari Rusnak, MA, LPC,CMHC
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