One of the most vital components of creating a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship* is to become a master at setting boundaries. Simply put, boundaries are what establish the space between where we end and the other person begins.
Depending on our upbringing and past experiences, setting boundaries and relationships may be easier or more difficult. Often if we have had parents, guardians, or other people in our lives during childhood who didn’t know how to set boundaries with us, then we must learn how to set boundaries in relationships. We need to learn when it’s the proper time to set a boundary and how to find a balance in setting boundaries so that they are not too weak or too strong.
Although learning how to properly and effectively establish boundaries can be a long process, here are a few basic steps for setting boundaries in our relationships:
Step one: Recognize and acknowledge our own feelings. To set effective boundaries, we must be able to know what we are feeling. Do we feel bad when our partner or friend makes a comment we perceive to be critical? Do we feel overwhelmed or drained as a result? Checking in and recognizing how we’re feeling is vital as we will then be able to separate ourselves, our feelings, from the other person and how we are perceiving their comments.
The difficulty for many who have weak or leaky boundaries and relationships is that we have become so enmeshed, so encompassed by the other persons “stuff”, we have no idea what they are feeling. By taking the time to break away, reflect, and honestly check-in with ourselves, we are consciously making the distinct difference between ourselves and the other person.
Step two: Recognize how our boundaries have been crossed. Is the other person constantly asking to borrow money from us but has never paid us back? Do we find ourselves regularly answering their text or phone calls late at night, causing us to lose sleep? Again, do they keep making critical comments toward us? Does this person seem to always have problems with us with which we feel the need to help? Boundary recognition helps us identify where we need to firm up those limits in our relationships.
Step three: Recognize how we need to set our boundaries. Once we identify what is causing us to feel overwhelmed, drained, or simply bad, decide what we need to say to our partner or friend. For example, if they constantly borrow money from us but doesn’t pay it back, we may need to tell them that we’re not allowing them to borrow anything else until we are repaid.
Or, if it’s a friend who is texting or calling us late at night when we’re trying to sleep, maybe we want to tell them we can’t talk because we need to sleep, or we can simply stop answering altogether. If our boundary is being crossed by someone who keeps making critical comments toward us, tell them that we don’t appreciate being spoken to in this way and that we will no longer accept it. Perhaps it’s a friend who seems to always consult us for help with their problems and thus is draining our energy. It’s probably time to say something like, “Hey, I know you’re in pain, but I have some of my own stuff to do right now. Can we get together later today or tomorrow to talk?”
Step four: Become grounded. Two things often happen when boundaries and relationships have been weak: 1. There is backlash from the other person and 2. we feel guilty. For this reason, becoming grounded within ourselves is paramount. We can do this by taking the time to do some breath work or meditation, or by tuning in with our body.
Grounding meditation that involves envisioning a cord going down from our root chakra and deep into the earth may also be beneficial. Also, remember that our emotions are valid. For this reason, we are not wrong for setting our boundaries. In fact, we are taking care of ourselves, which is something we should all do above all else.
Step six: take care of ourselves. If establishing boundaries has brought up any backlash or feelings of guilt, be sure to take care of ourselves. Let’s go for a walk, exercise, or simply be out in nature. Do something to re-center ourselves, and don’t spend too much (or any) energy focusing on what happened.
Even if someone wants to talk about the drama of what happened, we don’t need go there. We can tell them that we don’t want to talk about it; otherwise, we keep the stress and fear-based thinking alive.
*While this blog overall focuses on individuals in intimate relationships, this post was written to apply for a variety of relationships.