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Setting healthy boundaries

20 Dec

Boundaries are paramount to our well-being, learn how to set healthy boundaries with your family.

Stone country fence

Boundaries mean having  the right to say no, the right to be yourself, the right to express your emotions and yet still being able to love and care for each other. Setting healthy boundaries is paramount to our well-being. Without them, it’s alarmingly easy to get lost in others’ needs and to lose sight of where their feelings end and yours begin.

And if we’re constantly crossing those boundaries or allowing our family members to cross them, we’re not taking care of ourselves; instead, we are prioritising their needs over our own. As a result, you might feel like you’re at the mercy of others which is disempowering, anxiety inducing, and depressing which can in turn lead to chronic activation of the body’s stress response (fight or flight), and make your health deteriorate over time.

So what does a healthy boundary look like?

Healthy boundaries are strong but flexible as situations change. Ultimately they are about having respect for one another’s differences and needs, and allowing one another to feel, think, and act independently without criticism, persuasion, or guilt.

Toxic boundaries, on the other hand, are non-negotiable and often come about when someone becomes critical or enraged. These dialogues usually mean you devote your emotional resources toward the relationship but feel taken advantage of as a result and end up disappointed, confused, and resentful.

How do you create healthy boundaries?

Know your boundaries and how they make you feel. To set boundaries, you must first know your own boundaries. Examine how different situations make you feel, without judgment. Recognise if you feel uncomfortable, hurt, angry, anxious, or unseen.

Define your needs and how you’ll enforce them

Decide what your boundaries will look like and how best to enforce them, get as granular as you can so there’s no room for interpretation or misunderstandings once you express them to the family members in question. Your boundaries are in place for you, not the other person and make sure to express them in a way that’s about you and what you’re going to do, rather than what they ‘should’ do.

Communicate your boundaries

This can be the hardest bit. The level of discussion involved will depend on the extent of the boundary. The deeper the cut the longer the conversation. Make sure it’s a good time for both of you to communicate where there are few distractions. Focus on discussing the boundary only so as to not get sidetracked, keep the discussion calm and respectful. If you’re trying to set boundaries when you’re angry the other person may disregard what you say or not take you seriously. Try to describe what you're thinking and feeling as objectively using statements that start with ‘I…”. Share what you would like to do about it going forward, along with how these changes will improve your well-being and if possible how the other person will also benefit.

Prepare for pushback

Any change has a period of adjustment. Family members accustomed to you not having strong boundaries may get upset, angry, or try to force you into returning to your old ways. Try to remain calm and respond with firm, clear responses that stay on point. If necessary, give them space to cool off. In time, they’ll eventually adjust to the fact that your new boundaries are not going away.

Follow through with your plans

Consistency is key. Once you’ve expressed the boundaries you need to put it in place with your family, stay firm with your follow-through. If you’re inconsistent with your boundaries, they’re less likely to be maintained. It may take some practice, but continue to reinforce your needs and expectations until your new boundaries are second nature.

Trust the process

Often what stops people putting boundaries in place is the fear of losing a relationship, trust that anyone who truly loves you will learn to show their love by respecting your boundaries and the reasons why they’re important to your well-being.

If you follow these set steps, you should go a long way to having healthy and strong relationships with good boundaries in place which will help you navigate the slings and arrows which life can often throw your way.

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