Stand up for Yourself: A Psychologist’s 6 Tips for Setting Boundaries

Do you have trouble setting boundaries?

If so, you’re not alone. Most of the issues individuals face stem from a lack of boundaries with family, friends, and even coworkers. By setting reasonable limits with those close to you, you can benefit from healthy personal and professional relationships.

Here are some tips on setting clear, firm, and healthy boundaries according to this mental health expert.

1. Refine Your Own Opinions

What do you think?

What are you passionate about?

If you feel powerless to the will of others, you may not have any personal opinions of your own. Your opinion reflects that of someone else, such as an overbearing parent or a controlling spouse.

A lack of individual thoughts and beliefs is most common in enmeshed family systems. This kind of familial dysfunction happens when parents are so involved in their children’s lives that boundaries are blurred or nonexistent.

When a lack of familial boundaries follows you into adulthood, you have trouble making decisions and asserting your right to personal space. This can cause problems in any relationships you establish as an adult, and it makes you a bullying target.

  • Think of a few subjects that interest you. They could be as trivial as a movie or a TV show, or as important as a recent political event.
  • What are your personal feelings on that subject?
  • How does your stance differ from that of your loved one?
  • Make a habit of forming clear opinions about other subjects in this way.

If you need help doing so, discuss your likes and dislikes with your therapist. He can guide you through the process of forming confident opinions.

2. Put Yourself First

When was the last time you did something for yourself?

If everything you do is motivated by winning someone else’s approval, that’s a strong sign you are a people pleaser. This says more about your past and your environment than your personality.

People-pleasing habits can put you in danger of developing codependent relationships and cause you stress. When your life lacks personal satisfaction, you are more vulnerable to depression as well.

Think of something that makes you happy, and then do it. Start small.

For instance, if you want to stay home and read a book instead of seeing a movie with friends, tell them you need some time to yourself. It’s ok to do what you feel like doing, as long as your actions don’t cause harm to yourself or others.

3. Learn About Types of Boundaries

In order to develop healthy limits, you have to know what constitutes boundaries in the first place. You have a right to several forms of boundaries:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Verbal

If you’re not used to boundaries, you may not be aware that you are being violated in any way. For instance, your right to verbal boundaries means that you can speak up even if someone tells you not to. Also, you reserve the right not to be touched when you don’t want that, as per your physical boundaries.

Types of boundaries also extend to how strict they are. For example:

  • Rigid boundaries are when you don’t allow any intimacy or emotion whatsoever.
  • Porous boundaries are when you give of yourself so much that you lack personal space.
  • Healthy boundaries are when you can give and take comfortably on your terms.

Ideally, your goal is to establish balanced boundaries across all of your relationships. That said, your limits may be more porous with a spouse or sibling, while you may want more rigid boundaries at work.

4. Plan a Strategy

Now that you’re more familiar with what boundaries are and why you need them, it’s time to plan how to set them effectively.

Make a list of all of your relationships where you suspect boundary issues. This may include all your personal and professional relationships, or it may only be one particular person.

It’s perfectly normal to have balanced relationships with everyone but your boss or your mother, for instance.

A list like this helps you reflect on problems within each relationship, so that you can define the boundaries you need in each case.

5. Practice Saying No

Once your list is finished, write the type of boundary issue you’re experiencing with each relationship. Perhaps you find that you feel inferior to your sister, or you feel like a coworker is invading your personal space.

Take your list to your next therapy session, and discuss with your psychologist about how to deal with each relationship. Though each type of boundary should be set individually, you can start by writing a short letter to each person you’ve listed.

In your letter, tell the person how the lack of boundaries in your relationship hinders your well-being. Talk about how your relationship needs to change, and explain all the boundaries you want to establish.

For instance, if you need physical space from your parent, tell them that they cannot come over unannounced. An example of good boundary-setting with your boss is that you won’t accept work-related phone calls after office hours.

If your boundaries are not respected, state a consequence that you can follow through with.

Once your letters are written, schedule some uninterrupted time to speak to each person. Use your letter as a guide for your conversation. If you feel more comfortable sending the letter itself, feel free to do so.

6. Recognize the Risks and Responsibilities of Setting Boundaries

When you set boundaries, it’s important to set consequences for those who won’t respect your rules. If you don’t outline clear consequences, people may not take your boundaries seriously.

If those around you choose to continue disrespecting your wishes, you have to be prepared to enforce those consequences. Sometimes, this may mean that you won’t see a family member on a regular basis anymore. It may mean you have to switch jobs or bring up a coworkers misconduct to your boss.

In any case, following through with your consequences is a major personal responsibility that may require you to cut some ties and gain more independence. This is perhaps the toughest consequence of standing up for yourself.

While you set and define your boundaries, you will learn that some of your relationships are toxic. This means that though your friend or loved one might be a good person overall, their disrespect of healthy boundaries and their negative interactions with you create a destructive connection. In order to build up your well-being, you may have to make peace with leaving that relationship behind.

Do You Need Help?

Setting boundaries is a difficult journey that requires strength and perseverance. You may benefit from some guidance and positive support in this endeavor.

Working through your journey with a therapist can provide just the right kind of objective, nonjudgmental professional support you need.

If you’re ready to assert yourself, contact me today at my Westport, CT office, or schedule your first therapy session online. We can meet at your convenience to discuss your path of personal growth.

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