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Demystifying How To Have Healthy Boundaries

One thing SO MANY OF US (myself most definitely included) struggle to communicate is our boundaries. I get questions all the time about how to set and communicate boundaries so we’re gonna break.it.down. 

The good news?  

With a little practice, it’s a skill we can all master.

Brené Brown says the most compassionate people are also the most boundaried people. So don’t let anyone shame or guilt you for setting boundaries, it’s how we show others how to love us better. Communicating boundaries is throat chakra work because it involves learning to speak your truth and listen with compassion and curiosity when others communicate their boundaries with you.

It isn’t surprising that we struggle with boundaries given that many of us were taught to smile and nod, put others’ needs first, or as Brené says, “to perfect, please, and perform”.  When we don’t communicate our needs to others it’s like having invisible boundaries – no wonder they get crossed!

We all know what it feels like when our boundaries aren’t respected and the best way to avoid that (and handle it when it happens) is to become adept at clearly communicating our boundaries with kindness.

For me, I’ve struggled with setting boundaries around meeting my own needs. I tend to overgive and put others first until I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. 

Can you relate?  

It’s time we all get comfy communicating our boundaries so let’s get this party started.

What is a boundary?

Let’s start with the good ol’ dictionary definition of “a line that marks the edge or limit of something.” Agreed, both literally and figuratively. That could be limits on your time, your energy, your relationships, your work, etc.  Boundaries can be emotional, spiritual, sexual, physical, intellectual, etc.

Brené Brown gives perhaps the simplest definition of a boundary (which I love) as “this is what’s okay with me and this is what’s not okay with me.”  As in “It’s okay that we don’t text every day. What’s not okay is when you go radio silent and turn off your phone for a week.” Or “It’s okay if you need to reschedule. What’s not okay is rescheduling without giving me 24 hrs notice so I can adjust my plans.

Or you can think of boundaries the way Glennon Doyle, in a recent podcast episode with her sister, described it: boundaries are something that clarifies what we are responsible for and what we’re not responsible for.  As in, “I am responsible for regulating my own emotions. I am not responsible for making sure that everyone else has a good time.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

Brené Brown

Clear boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship. Whether it’s a…

Relationship with others
Relationship with ourselves
Relationship with our communities (school, work, church, etc.)
Relationship with our devices (like your phone or television)

Communicating our boundaries can be hard AF because…

It can feel wayyyy easier to let it slide in the moment and say “yes” to avoid potential conflict. We naturally worry about what others will think or about disappointing them – it’s part of being social animals who need each other to survive. And many of us have been trained to be people-pleasers which means saying no can feel scary. And not knowing what the heck to say stops us from speaking up (don’t worry, I’ve got you covered below with some sample scripts).

It can be especially hard to communicate boundaries with those we love because their opinions matter to us. We don’t want to disappoint them. We want our loved ones to accept us and to affirm our decisions.

Setting, speaking, and maintaining boundaries can also be challenging because we’ve all experienced what it’s like to have someone “cross the line” with us. And when our boundaries aren’t respected over and over again (like in a relationship with a narcissist) they become porous. Making us feel like we don’t matter and ultimately ‘why bother’ setting boundaries in the first place.

It’s so important to acknowledge that when we change the pattern in our relationships by establishing new boundaries it’s NORMAL to experience pushback.  Because in general people don’t like change – they’d rather stick to the familiar. This is true for boundaries we try to establish with ourselves too – as anyone who’s ever cheated on a diet can tell you.

If we know that this pushback is a normal reaction to change we can…

  1. Plan for it and maybe decide how we’ll respond when pushback happens
  2. Recognize that pushback doesn’t mean we’re bad at setting boundaries, there’s something wrong with us or we’re being unreasonable
  3. See that others are not intentionally being a**holes they just don’t like change (especially true if the old way was working well for them)
  4. Give ourselves grace if we cross a boundary we’ve set with ourselves

“You can either disappoint others or you can disappoint yourself. It’s okay to allow people to be uncomfortable so you can have internal peace.” 

Glennon Doyle

Setting boundaries is a skill and learning a skill takes practice…

Where to begin?

Knowing where you stand begins with knowing where you WANT to stand and knowing what you need to stand tall. Boundaries protect and communicate our core values. 

Sometimes it can feel difficult to articulate what we need.

Going back to my example…before I can create a boundary that protects my energy from overgiving I need to understand how much downtime I require so I can give from a place of overflow. Recently, I’ve been really aware that the week before and the start of my period is a low energy time – so I try not to DO too much in terms of creativity and forward-thinking in my business. It’s more about wrapping up loose ends and having the time I need to take a nap or whatever else my body needs that day. Honestly, I’ve never thought of scheduling my time around my biology before – it’s been revolutionary!

Try this…

1. Reflect on a time when you felt exhausted or overwhelmed. Did you take on more than you could handle? Where did you say “yes” when it should have been a “no”? What did you need most at that time? Next time, how will you know you’re reaching your limit BEFORE you get there? What signs will you look for? What boundaries can you set to protect your energy and prevent overwhelm or exhaustion? 

2. Reflect on a time when you sacrificed your peace or joy to make others comfortable. What did YOU need in that situation?

3. Bring it into the present moment. Close your eyes and take 3 slow deep breaths.  What do you need right now? Is your body telling you it needs a nap? Do you need to drink more water? Do you need a hug? Do you need to slooooow down?

When you know what you need to make it through the day/week without feeling completely depleted you can see where you need to start setting boundaries.

Maybe that looks like…

  • 1 hr of downtime after work where no one requires anything from me
  • one night a week to Netflix and chill (pants optional)
  • time every day to be outside in nature – walking, gardening, or sitting by the lake
  • speak your boundaries with yourself, first (especially if it feels scary). Then practice maintaining the boundaries you set with yourself, first.

Like…

  • Scheduling time for creative expression (a great throat chakra activity)
  • Choosing to turn off all your devices an hour before bed so you can snuggle up with a good book
  • Create a sacred morning routine (I cherish and protect mine!) so that you start your day feeling calm and centered

Then (and here’s the hard part) you have to keep showing up for yourself.

One way I’ve started showing up for myself is by setting boundaries around my time.  When I started my own business I believed the line of “you get to make your own hours – how amazing is that?!” which failed to mention that your hours were blurred and stretched because you didn’t work a traditional 9 – 5. I think we ALL experienced this with lockdowns. It’s one thing to SET the time boundary, it takes serious commitment to keep it. I still struggle with this but I’m getting better!

Communicating our boundaries is a skill that takes practice AND the better we get at honouring boundaries with ourselves and meeting our own needs, the easier it becomes to communicate our needs to others and ask them to honour the boundaries we’ve set.

But how do we communicate our boundaries…effectively?

Here’s my best advice. Take a deep breath (or 3), remember why this boundary is important to you, and then be clear, loving, and firm as you communicate what’s okay and what’s not okay.

That might sound like…(and feel free to steal these)

“I don’t need you to try and fix anything. I just really need someone to listen to how I’m feeling right now.”

“Thanks so much for the invite. I love that you thought of me! However, I’m just going to stay in tonight.”

“Thanks for your feedback (advice). I’m comfortable with my choices.”

“It doesn’t feel good when you tell me what to believe. I understand your values and I make choices according to my own values.”

“My body/health/what I choose to wear is not up for discussion.”

“I would love to be there for you. Right now, I don’t have the capacity to support you the way you need me to.”

“While I’m always available to listen to your problems, it’s not my responsibility to fix them for you.”

“My mental health is important to me. That’s why I choose to devote one hour every day to self-care.”

“I appreciate that’s your perspective, I don’t share it.”

“In order for me to show up refreshed and able to do my best work I will not work past 8 PM.”

“Yelling/ naming calling/ dredging up past mistakes is unacceptable. We will speak to each other with kindness or we’ll need to take a time out/break and revisit this when we both feel calmer.”

Remember, it boils down to what’s okay with me and what’s not okay with me. What’s my responsibility and what’s not my responsibility. 

Okay, your turn…what is ONE boundary you want to set? Who needs to know? How will you clearly communicate it?

Amending Boundaries

Your boundaries are not set in stone. We don’t have to be rigid about them in order to be committed to them. Sometimes a specific situation will require a bit of flexibility.  Sometimes our needs shift and it’s time to rewrite our boundaries. And the old boundaries can actually get in the way of the joy or connection we seek. Usually, they’re designed to protect us because we’ve been let down in the past. That’s when boundaries can start to look more like…walls.

For example…

Boundary: I am solely responsible for myself. (Which, at first glance, is probably something most of us would agree with.)

Walls: I shouldn’t have to ask for help. I can do it on my own. I don’t need to be cared for. It’s not okay to lean on others for support.

While self-responsibility is so freakin’ important it can create walls if we don’t heal the hurt of being let down in the past when we needed help. It can actually start to get in the way of the connection that happens when we lean on those who love us and allow ourselves to be cared for as an act of love. That doesn’t mean we need to toss it out completely, just give it a rewrite.

Rewrite: I am responsible for myself which includes knowing when to reach out for help.  

Do you have a boundary that’s getting in the way of your joy or connection? Are you ready to amend it? What can you say instead?

Boundaries teach others how to love us better. It takes practice. It begins with understanding what we value and what we need. The more we practice honouring the boundaries we set with ourselves the easier it becomes to clearly communicate our needs and boundaries to others.

And the throat chakra shadow work that we’re talking about next can make communicating our boundaries (and everything else) so much easier – so be sure to stay tuned to this channel!

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