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The Art of Setting Boundaries

The best gift you can give yourself and others is learning the art of setting and holding healthy boundaries.

Even though boundaries is the buzzword in society today, how do you actually define it? I actually prefer using the term “line of respect” instead of boundary because it is simply the framework that you operate physically, intellectually, emotionally, and sexually where you can love yourself, and love others at the same time.

That being said, having this line of respect isn’t enough. As I mentioned above, it is an art - so let’s dive in and first learn what not to do.

Rigid Boundaries

In an effort to preserve our mental, physical and even financial health, we often start by setting too rigid of a boundary by cutting people off immediately or too quickly. This is a mistake in two ways. First, it doesn’t give people the benefit of the doubt and a chance to work through something. It could be something as simple as a misunderstanding or a topic that was miscommunicated and instead of allowing second chances, you sever what may be a very healthy, productive relationship. Second, rigid boundaries are hard to keep long term. People who have gone “no contact” with family members use it as a last resort after years and years of trying. Boundaries should never be used as empty threats. Beware of black and white thinking, and try to leave a little room for the gray area.

Weak Boundaries

If you have a pattern of people pleasing, then setting boundaries seems like life or death because it runs counter to your conditioning. This results in weak boundary setting. Weak boundaries look like always saying yes, setting limits, but then walking them back at the first hint of pushback, apologizing, and avoiding confrontation. Underneath weak boundaries is a fear of rejection and criticism.

Healthy Boundaries (aka Your Line of Respect)

The breakdown of all relationships are unmet expectations, which is why setting your line of respect is really just establishing your expectations from yourself and others. Before we dive into the steps, I want you to get clear and these questions:

How often do you put yourself first? When was the last time you did?

What are your inner needs, thoughts, and emotions?

What do you want?

How comfortable are you with expressing your limits and expectations?

Now let’s dive into the steps.

Drawing Your Line of Respect

Step 1: Get clear on what you want.

If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to get it? How can you communicate what you don’t even know? If there is a situation that you feel disrespected in, then first get clear on what you actually want out of it.

Step 2: Communicate

Jordan B. Petersen said this (and it is one of my favorite pieces of marriage advice): “Have the damn fight”. It is always, always better to speak up instead of shove it down. If something isn’t right, you don’t like how you are being treated or not heard, then take a deep breath and just say it. It might be too rigid or weak at first, but like anything, practice makes it permanent

Step 3: Reflect

Take time to reassess how it’s going. Is it getting better? Are you getting the results you want? Are you communicating it well? There is always going to be a learning curve.

While you integrate these steps into your personal and professional life, here are some tips to help you along the way.

6 Tips To Setting Healthy Boundaries

Know Your Values

Everyone’s personal values are different and these values influence our limits, needs, and expectations. Knowing your personal values is an important first step to set boundaries. Make a list of your personal values, integrate them into grounds, then dial it down to your top 5-10. These values will help guide your limits and expectations with what’s important to you (especially when used with step #1)

Start Small

Remember that boundaries are not threats, so if you don’t have many boundaries in place right now, start small so that you can hold them. Making too many changes at once is not only exhausting, but it’s unsustainable.

Start Early

Set boundaries early on in a relationship. When you hire a new employee, clearly outline your expectations on the first day. There may be some misunderstandings down the road, but it is far easier to set the stage right away, then try to repair the damage down the road. As they say, "An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure."

Listen to Your Gut

You know when someone has crossed or violated your own boundaries, but too often we dismiss our emotional warning signs. Our gut gives us these cues for a reason. Learn to listen to your intuition and observe your emotions. Are they telling you something? If so, what do you need to do for yourself right now?

Deal With Pushback

The truth is that some will struggle to accept your expectations and respect your boundaries. Know that this will happen so you won’t be caught off guard when it does. A great word to have in your backpocket is “nevertheless”. When a person starts arguing with you about why you are being unreasonable, listen to their points, then once they are done say “neverthless, this is where I stand”. This allows you to be firm and kind.

Where do you want to draw your line of respect? Whether it’s in your personal relationships, family, or career everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Remember, while setting these boundaries can be scary, it is truly for the benefit of everyone… it’s the space where you can not only love yourself, but love others at the same time.

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