So I used to struggle with setting healthy boundaries – like really struggle. I am a bit of a natural-born people pleaser and honestly I did not even realize that this was an issue for me until I was in my early twenties. And if I’m being really honest, I wasn’t even very familiar with the concept of “healthy boundaries” or what that meant until after doing some work in therapy. But, over the last decade or so I have done a lot to focus on and grow in this area, from therapy to various books and making changes in how I interact. Since seeing how much better life is on the other side with healthy boundaries… It is something that I feel is so important and worth investing your time and energy into improving.
We covered this topic in a podcast as well. If you’d like to hear that conversation and a bit more in-depth discussion, you can check out our podcast on Boundaries (Season 1, episode 4).
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are basically how we define what we are comfortable with and not comfortable with, what we are willing to do and what we are not. Ultimately healthy boundaries mean taking ownership over the things I can control, rather than letting those things own me.
How do I know if I need to work on setting better boundaries?
Well for starters, if you are not sure… you probably need a little work. Personally I think boundaries are something that we can always be defining and improving how we set and communicate our boundaries.
When I was prepping for our podcast on this topic, I came across a great blog by Lauran Han, LMHC (3 Fundamentals to Boundaries) with some questions that break down emotional boundaries and signs that you might be too closed off or too open emotionally. There are some others out there as well, but I liked that hers explained things alongside the assessment questions.
Here are a few very basic questions that if you answers yes to, can be signs that your boundary setting has room for improvement.
Healthy Boundary Assessment Questions
- Do you feel constantly pulled in too many directions?
- Do you constantly feel like you give more than you get out of relationships?
- Do you find yourself minimizing your own feelings for the sake of others? This could be an indicator that
- Do you find yourself telling “little white lies” to avoid conflict or uncomfortable situations?
- Do you have a hard time saying no to people, even when you want to or feel you should?
If you said yes to any of the above questions… it could be a sign that you have some room to grow when it comes to setting healthy boundaries. Feeling pulled in too many directions could be situational, but it could also be an indicator that you’re struggling to say no when you should. And while the rules of reciprocity may not apply in parenting, your social and romantic adult relationships should be fulfilling you and not just taking from you. If you want to better understand where you fall, I have some recommendations at the bottom of this blog.
Scenarios with examples of unhealthy vs healthy boundary responses
Boundary Scenario #1
Someone wants to come over and you already have a ton on your plate for the day (assuming this is not a life or death or any kind of legit emergency)
- Response A: You don’t want to let them down, so you say “yes, come on over.” Now you’re really stressed out and you have to rush to get stuff done. You may have to put off some of your things.
- You knew you didn’t want to say yes, but you did… you did not assert a healthy boundary.
- Response B: You let them know you’d love to help, but it’s super last minute and you already have a full plate for today. So you let tell them know what you can do that wont stress you out. You say “I already have a full plate for tonight, but I am free this Saturday.”
- See what I did there? Healthy boundary activated. You don’t have to be mean to say no. It is not mean to be honest.
Boundary Scenario #2
You own a jewelry business and a friend or family member says “I love those earring you made and posted on social! Think you could hook me up with a pair?”
- Response A: You feel like they are complimenting you and you want to be nice… You know those earrings took a lot of time to make and you had to buy the supplies, but this person doesn’t have a lot of money maybe, or maybe they did a favor for you a while ago… maybe you think it will be good advertising… you find a way to justify why it’s ok or you don’t deserve to get paid but it doesn’t really feel good. You respond “Aw, thank you! For sure you can have a pair.”
- You’re probably a really nice person if you do this. Too nice that is. To others. Not nice enough to yourself. You didn’t feel good about this at all, but it couldn’t bear to say no even if it hurt you. You might even feel a bit used and resentful afterwards and that is also not so healthy.
- Response B: You say “Thanks! I like how those turned out too! I can definitely hook you up. Do you want me to text you the order form or did you wanna just stop by the shop?”
- This would be an appropriate way to let them know that you’re not giving the earrings away for free. What is the worst that could happen? They say “oh I was thinking you might just hook me up with a pair no cost…”? Yeah they might say that. And you can just let them know that the earrings take a lot of time and money to make and right now you don’t have any sales. They do not have to buy them. That’s ok.
The connection between being assertive and setting healthy boundaries
For me, the ability to start setting healthy boundaries actually started with working on my ability to be assertive. The two go very hand-in-hand because setting healthy boundaries requires that you be assertive.
Assertive does not mean aggressive. Assertive is the happy and healthy middle place between passive and aggressive. It is speaking truth with kindness, even when it is super hard and might result in conflict.
My recommendations if you want to learn or grow more when it comes to boundaries
- My number one recommendation would be the book “Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO to Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud. I am not kidding you when I say this book could change your life. He uses relevant and interesting examples and really makes it easy to understand and start applying in your life. There is also a Boundaries workbook that goes with the book if you want to dive a little deeper in your growth journey.
- My other recommendation is, if you can afford it… therapy. There is no shame in seeing a therapist. Not seeing a therapist though, when you know you should and have the means to do so, is choosing to stay unhealthy. A therapist can help you work through better understanding yourself, where you fall, what your boundaries are and more. I highly recommend talking to your therapist about goals and what you want to get out of therapy. Then, once you have someone you believe is competent, trust the process even when it doesn’t make sense.
Erin is ambitious, sarcastic and optimistic. She values authenticity, education and personal growth. Read More…