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Self-care is a booming industry, especially as many people are facing burn out. While many of the things that first come to mind with self-care are expensive, there is self-care that is inexpensive and helps us to care for our needs. This is especially true when you live with less energy available to you. That act of self care is learning to set boundaries. Most people aren’t taught how to set boundaries and may even view it as a selfish move that moves them away from others. However, when you set good boundaries, you can actually allow yourself to be closer to others without sacrificing yourself.

Why Are You Setting The Boundary?

This is a very good first place to start. Usually, you can feel when people cross the boundaries. But it’s important to first understand why that crosses a boundary. This can show alternatives available along with helping you get clear on what the boundary you need to set actually is. This can be helpful as many people (women especially) don’t feel comfortable setting boundaries because they don’t want to be seen as difficult or they worry that setting a boundary will ruin relationships they have. It is easier for people to respect boundaries if there are acceptable alternatives to get what they want.

Such a boundary may be not answering social calls during a certain time when you are napping or working, but having open windows where people who want to talk to you can reach out and get answered. This can help set the boundary that your work or nap time is for work or naps, but still show people you care about that you are making time to have a relationship with them. But before you can make distinctions like that, you need to understand what you need out of the boundary and what you are trying to do both when you want to set the boundary and when you consider letting someone crossing the boundary slide. This helps you fine tune the boundary to fit what you actually need.

Identify The Boundary Your Are Setting

This is a continuation of the previous step. Once you understand what you are trying to get from the boundary and what could make you let someone cross it, you need to put your finger on exactly where you want the boundary to be. Following my previous example, you may decide that you nap every day between 1 and 2 PM. You can set your phone to do not disturb during that time and let people know that you won’t be reachable during that hour but are open to handle calls from people after 5 PM. This is the part where you want to get specific and laying down exactly where your limit is and where you will give concessions.

Decide On Consequences

This step sounds incredibly daunting, but in reality, deciding on consequences is just deciding what you do when people cross your boundaries. It’s pretty normal for people to test boundaries when they are first set, as they want to find exactly where the boundary is and how serious you are. This is a very important step if you aren’t in the habit of holding boundaries with anyone. You need to decide what you do when someone crosses the boundary you set. Most of the time you can’t give them consequences like fines or punishments, but you can control how you respond to their actions and that is what this step is all about. When you are in the moment of holding a boundary, you want to already know what you are going to do if someone crosses it.

A good example of this may be at Thanksgiving when someone you disagree with politically starts talking politics. You can decide that you will first ask that you don’t talk politics at the dinner table. Most people will find this reasonable and stop, but some people will push. If they push, you could decide that you will excuse yourself from the table and maybe even ask someone to come get you when the talk of politics is over. You may also decide to just go home and try again another year. This holds your boundary of not talking politics that may upset you over dinner so you can enjoy family time and may end up with other people supporting your boundary and improving the situation. Regardless, you can take care of your own needs and make the situation better in the future. Because within a few dinners, the person will either respect your boundaries or show you how much they actually value you.

Communicate The Boundary

This is where you talk to other people about your boundaries. You don’t need to bring it up until it is relevant, but before you hold the boundary, you want to let people know what the boundary is and any ways you have made available to consider their needs while you hold that boundary. This could be as easy as telling someone who calls you every day at 1:30 PM that starting the next day you will take a nap from 1 to 2 PM and won’t be answering your phone but offering to talk with them after 5PM for the earlier nap example. For the Thanksgiving dinner example, it can be as simple as, “I’m excited to have a nice family dinner. I ask that we please not talk about politics during dinner so we can all enjoy our time together”. It doesn’t need to be long or personal. You just need to say it so it doesn’t surprise people when you hold your boundary. People have a hard time respecting a boundary they don’t know or understand. Giving a warning may clarify the boundary, but it’s up to you whether you feel you need to hold the boundary immediately or whether a warning is more appropriate for the situation.

Hold The Boundary

This is where people struggle the most. If you have ever heard a parent threaten something and then watched them continue to threaten instead of following through on the threat, you see a place where they set a boundary but failed to hold it. As I stated earlier, it’s normal for people to test the boundaries we set. This is the part that makes most people feel the guiltiest because it’s when they have to deliver on the consequence they laid out. This is where you have to stand up and walk out of the room or ignore the call from your friend during your nap hour.

Many people feel like jerks for holding boundaries. But setting boundaries is good for relationships. If you think about the parent child relationship, it is built on the parent giving the child boundaries to keep the child safe. Even when you apply it to more mature relationships, setting boundaries helps ensure both sides are taken care of.

The trickiest part of this is holding a boundary with a person who refuses to respect them. Some people won’t accept your boundaries. Sometimes it is because of beliefs they have. Other times, it’s because they just struggle with boundaries. Sometimes it’s because the boundary doesn’t fit the vision they have of you. When a person doesn’t respect your boundaries, evaluate what you want to do with the relationship. If it is someone you care about, redefine your boundaries with them or talk with them about what the boundary means to you. If it is someone you struggle with, you may determine that the relationship isn’t worth trying to fix.

When the person not respecting your boundaries is blood related, that can make the whole situation feel trickier. This can be a good place to start conversations, but many times you want to redefine your relationship with that person. For instance, my mom has never felt like much of a mom. My mom keeps pushing my boundaries because she feels she knows what’s best for me and she is stuck in her own worldview. As a result, I’ve had to redefine my relationship with my mom to one where I’m polite for my sister’s weekly calls and family gatherings, but I don’t have a proper relationship with her. I’ve moved past expecting her to understand and embraced the idea of your family is really the people you choose to be family and that has helped me hold the boundaries I need to not take what she says while still having a sort of relationship with her. You may find you need to do something similar with others in your life.

Did you find this helpful? Do you feel like I missed anything about setting boundaries? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments.