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Setting Effective Boundaries: An Essential Lesson

This is not the first time we’re preaching the importance of boundary setting, but while we’re all basking in that New Year New Me glow, we thought we’d reiterate: There’s almost nothing more important than setting effective boundaries in your relationships – personal and professional.

Whether they come in the form of an overbearing employer, a nosy relative, or a best friend who’s just a little too pushy, the inability to manage others’ expectations of us can lead to negative mental health side-effects – and after 2020, we all know the importance of taking care of that. But having the tough talks about where your boundaries lie can be a daunting task, particularly for those who dislike confrontation. Designating a step-by-step action plan can help to make the process a little easier. That’s what this article’s for.

Understand your own boundaries

It would be nearly impossible to effectively communicate your boundaries to someone if you don’t yet understand them yourself – that’s where some introspection comes in. Whether you meditate on it, journal about it, or just talk to yourself in the mirror, you need to figure out what it is you want from the people in your life, and what it is you’re willing to offer in return.

The boundaries you identify need not be anything major and dramatic – they could involve asking your partner for some quiet time to wind down before bed, or telling your best friend you’re getting too old to drink every weekend. Identifying what it is you need to say is the first step in building your boundaries.

Ask yourself some important questions

Once you’ve identified what it is you need, it’s time to interrogate yourself. “When struggling to establish or maintain boundaries, it is helpful to break down the circumstances surrounding the issue,” Diana Concannon, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and the dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, told Popsugar.

“Ask: Is this a struggle I have generally, or with a particular individual or situation? What would setting an appropriate boundary look like to me? Is there a consequence I fear or dread if I set an appropriate boundary? Is it possible to discuss this situation directly with the individual with whom I am experiencing this struggle to diffuse the situation? If not, what would make me feel most comfortable in taking the risk in setting the boundary I need? What will I do to support myself if the consequence I dread occurs?”

These questions will not only help you understand why you need the boundaries you’ve identified, and how to vocalise them, but they may also make it easier to maintain them in the long run.

Communicate what you need

Next, you’ll need to voice your thoughts and needs to the people involved – and, admittedly, this is the tricky part.

It’s imperative to be clear about the boundaries you need, and not to assume that others know what you’re thinking. There’s no need to feel bad for looking out for yourself either. You only live once, and time is precious – you can’t go around spending every moment of every day doing things you don’t what to do or don’t feel mentally and emotionally equipped to do, because you feel obligated to. Nobody can blame you for looking after yourself, particularly in tough times like these.

Self 👏🏼 care 👏🏼 must 👏🏼 come 👏🏼 first.

And before you start feeling selfish for telling people what you need, remember that you’ll be far better equipped to serve those around you if you are mentally and emotionally balanced, calm and healthy, yourself.

Of course, not everyone is going to understand immediately. As humans, they may become defensive and lash out when you express your needs. But try to communicate how you feel calmly despite this. Plan the setting of your locations – somewhere calm and comfortable – a safe space, if you will. If you remain calm and reasonable, and you explain yourself well, the people who matter and who respect you will come around. Discussion may play an important role in setting effective boundaries that will last, so make sure you’ve carved out the time for this.

Repetition is key

Unfortunately, there will always be people in your life who feel they can push their luck and your boundaries, but it’s important not to give in.

Respect yourself enough to be a broken record about the boundaries you’ve set for yourself. When it comes time to tell someone a firm “no”, be confident about it, and repeat it as loudly and as often as necessary. Love yourself enough to not give in to manipulation and guilt-tripping. You’ve set your boundaries for a reason – stick to them.

If someone persists in trying to push your boundaries, you can take it as an indication that they don’t value those boundaries, or you, very highly, and make a swift exit from the conversation.

Practice practice practice

Setting effective boundaries is (usually) not something that one manages to do overnight. From time to time, we’ll probably give in to the people who ask us (sweetly) to compromise our boundaries, and then we’ll have to start all over and have another talk about them.

By practicing saying no, and sticking to the boundaries we know serve us, we’ll naturally get better at them.

It may also take time for people to learn that you are in fact serious about the boundaries you’ve set, and you may have to be patient with them as well as with yourself. Be clear about them until they’ve understood and come to terms with your new boundaries, and it’s likely you won’t have to explain them again.

Remember that you deserve to have interactions in your life that serve you, and to limit those that don’t. in 2021, focus your attention on setting effective boundaries that maximise the time you spend with those who lift you up, and waste less time dealing with situations that are bad for you. If you need more advice about how to do this, perhaps you could speak to a professional who will be able to guide you even more clearly and help you live your best life this year.

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