Knowing what is and what is not your responsibility isn’t so difficult to determine but communicating your boundaries and limits about those responsibilities may be.
When you are feeling uncomfortable with what others ask of you, resentful of how they treat you, or maybe just generally unable to cope with certain requests from others, then it’s time to create healthy boundaries and communicate them to those involved. Setting and communicating the boundaries can reduce stress and even improve your relationships with others. Recognizing your own boundaries will also help you to better understand what is meaningful to you. Remember too, that you need to recognize and respect the boundaries that others set for themselves.
You cannot meet all obligations. Ask for help and tell others when you cannot participate.
To establish personal boundaries:
- Think about which social circumstances bring you joy and which ones bring on added stress. Love a houseful of guests and don’t mind unexpected visitors? If so, let your friends and family know that they’re always welcome. Likewise, if you like your privacy or prefer to know when someone is going to visit, tell your loved ones you’d appreciate if they scheduled something with you before “dropping in.”
- When communicating a boundary to another person, you should politely tell them why you are setting the boundary, perhaps offering them options that work within both participants’ sets of boundaries. Make sure to communicate your boundaries when you aren’t angry, and you may want to rehearse or prepare ahead of time if you think that the setting of boundaries may be difficult for someone to understand.
Make an effort to identify which boundaries you need to set.
Do you have trouble setting boundaries with specific people, or is it difficult for you to set boundaries during certain situations?
- Your time is valuable and limited, so establish priorities for it. Don’t accept every invitation. Saying “yes” to please everyone isn’t realistic and can add undue stress.
- Your finances are your business, spend your money in a way that makes you comfortable. Politely decline social events if you feel that they will strain your budget. It’s also okay to say “no, thank you” when your co-worker asks you to order from their child’s fundraiser, or to contribute toward a personal cause. If social events are causing you to overspend, find ways to spend time with friends and family that cost little or no money; suggest getting together for a walk, a free public event, or talk over a cup of coffee at home.
- During special events or certain times of the year, you may feel the need to provide others with the things that you believe will make them happy. Being “nice” may involve cooking a favorite holiday treat, finding, and giving the perfect gift, sending cards and letters, or attending social and family events that drain health, financial resources, and energy. If you can set healthy boundaries so that you are able to meet your needs, then you are more likely to be able to respectfully care for others in your life by doing “nice” things that they truly enjoy. Providing others with something that is not within your needs isn’t bad, but feeling stressed and judgmental about it reduces the good that comes from doing good deeds for others. Additionally, don’t place all happiness expectations on one event, day, meal, or gift. Spread your energy and happiness over multiple days and events. Allow yourself to recover from situations that strain your boundaries at your own pace.
Be wary of feelings of guilt. Guilt is a negative feeling, so when others need or want something that is perhaps not within your needs or desires you will need to seek a balance.
Don’t make others second-guess. As long as you are clear and polite, others are likely to be supportive--even if they don’t feel the same way. The most important thing to remember is that having boundaries doesn’t make you mean or selfish. It makes you human.