Monique West, LCSW-R
Creating Healthy Boundaries For Happy Relationships
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Boundaries is perhaps the most common skill I teach to clients as a clinical therapist. In our childhood we learn that sharing is caring, we learn about the golden rule (doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you) and we learn that it is important to be a good samaritan. We, however, get very little messages and education about how to set personal boundaries and that boundaries are in fact another extension of self-love. Self-love is often equated to being selfish. We often hear how important it is to set boundaries with people, but very little details about what defines boundaries and even less details about how to construct, communicate and execute boundaries. Boundaries in nature can sound and feel esoteric in nature. Let's discuss what boundaries are and why setting boundaries can be powerful.
WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES?
Boundaries are a mechanism that keeps us safe in relationships. Relationships can become messy and at times erratic without definition or premise. Boundaries helps us create a healthy guideline that informs what behaviors are acceptable and reasonable for us to feel honored and respected. Boundaries helps us communicate our expectations in relationships to get our emotional needs met. Boundaries can protect us emotionally, financially, sexually, spiritually, physically and professionally. Think of boundaries as rumble strips on the highway; Rumble strips keeps us in our lane and within course towards our journey. Boundaries keeps us safe and within the lines of our relationships and guides us back into safe spaces. Without boundaries relationships can become chaotic; careening into relationship ditches are more likely without boundaries as safe guidelines. Boundaries will help us navigate friendships, romantic relationships, acquaintanceship and professional relationships.
Do You Need To Create Boundaries?
You may need to create boundaries in your relationship if you feel:
Feeling resentful and frustrated because you feel taken advantage of or disrespected?
Do you often disregard your needs and take care of people?
Have you been told that you are a people pleaser?
Do you often feel like you are responsible for other people's happiness?
Are your relationships highly conflicted, charged or seem to become easily explosive or volatile?
Do you feel like your needs are often not getting met in relationships?
Does it feel like your relationships are one-sided and often not reciprocated?
Do you struggle with identifying and asking for your needs in a relationship?
Do you feel that it is difficult to label your feelings?
How Do You Begin Creating Boundaries?
Believe it or not Boundaries begin with following your feelings and tuning into your intuition. First pay attention to how you feel in your relationships. If you often feel uneasy and emotionally unsafe in relationships then it's time to pay attention to your instincts. Begin by deciding and defining how you need to feel in these relationships to feel honored.
Step 1: Write down how you need to feel in relationships by defining your boundaries
It is impossible to have people respect your boundaries if you have not identified what your boundaries are. First begin defining your boundaries by writing down what you need to feel in each relationship. For Instance you can begin to write a list of "feeling" and action words: Respected, Honored, Listened to, Acknowledged, Validated, Reciprocity in relationships, Admired, etc. After you have written down your list of feeling and action words that would best reflect a healthy relationship as you would like to experience it, then begin writing down with a list of behaviors that are unhealthy and/or disrespectful that is showing up in your current relationships for example: Negative put downs, name calling, being used for money, having a relationship that is one sided and non- supportive, etc. On the other side of this list write down a column with positive behaviors that you would then need to show up to alter the unhealthy behaviors that are in your current relationship. For example you can list: I would need my friend to acknowledge my text messages when I send them with a response, I would need my partner to refrain from calling me names that are insulting, I need my mother to respect my "No's" as no's without pressing me or making me feel guilty, etc. This is list does not have to be done all at once, spend some time listening to your gut on this and expand this list in soulful way. Remember boundaries are ever expanding and what you need from relationships constantly evolve and change as you do.
Step 2: Announce and inform your boundaries to others
The next step is to communicate with others your newly defined boundaries. Alerting people of your boundaries should be communicated when you are in a neutral emotional place. Communicating newly defined boundaries when you are heated, frustrated or overwhelmed may land as an explosive argument instead of a firm yet assertive request for what you need. Consider the usage of "I" Statement when delivering a boundary to another person. "I" statements are statements that focus on self rather than using "you" statements. "You" statements can trigger the other person to become defensive or hostile. If I were to say "You are always late and that's really selfish and rude and I don't like." this may trigger a defensive response. If instead you were to say; " I am often left feeling unacknowledged and taken for granted when I'm left waiting I am asking that you make a concerted effort to be on time when we plan an outing, can we talk more about this?" Using "I" statement is not a magic bullet but it can neutralize what could be a heated topic into a more digestible conversation for both parties.
When making boundaries communicate what you will need from the relationship going forward and for what reason and the consequence if the person in the relationship does not honor your boundaries. You may also consider saying: "Please forgive me I have not always done a good job of communicating my boundaries to myself and others. I want to let you know that I value our relationship and would like us to work on our relationship moving forward, I no longer feel emotionally validated in our relationship when I am insulted by name calling and verbal put downs. I am asking that you refrain from calling me negative names. If you continue to call me names that are insulting I will remind you and if it persist I will leave the room. I would like us to continue to work on making our relationship healthier." Be prepared for announcing your boundaries by writing out a script for yourself if needed. Another example of example of communicating boundaries is: " I recognize that I have not always been clear with you about what feels healthy for me in relationships, I am in a period in my life where I am re-evaluating my relationships and how to foster better connections. I care about our friendship and I would like to ask you to respond to my text messages when I text you. I often feel ignored and unacknowledged when I text you and there is no response. I recognize that we both are busy people and would ask that you drop me a line to say you are busy and will get back to me when you can, this would make me feel more valued and treasured in our friendship. If you cannot agree to this let's continue to discuss this issue for a collaborative resolution."
It's best to tackle one boundary one at a time with people, too many boundary laid out for a person in bullet point may feel like an ambush and overwhelming for the other person. Because you will have to follow up on holding these boundaries, unleashing numerous boundaries all at once can be confusing for you to keep track of their consequences. Remember you can gradually roll out boundaries for people.
Step 3: Holding your boundaries.
The most important part of healthy boundary maintenance is holding your boundaries. You can spend time on identifying and announcing your boundaries in a clear and concise way but if you fail to continue to firmly remind people of your boundaries and CONSISTENTLY follow up with consequence then your relationship will revert to being unhealthy. Adopt the broken record technique with people and continue to ask for what you need in a firm yet assertive manner. If you have asserted a consequence then it is important to follow through on said boundaries. If you have told the other person that you will leave the room or hang up the phone when they are beginning to call you names, then you may consider saying: " I have told you that name calling is insulting and hurts my feelings and does not reflect the kind of relationship I want with you, you are beginning to call me negative names so I'm hanging up now. Call me when you are able to communicate with me without insulting names. Goodbye." Be prepared to follow through on communicated consequence as many times as the undesired behaviors continues. Remind yourself with self created mantras that you deserve respect and healthy relationships and you can only achieve this through standing up for yourself and communicating your needs in a consistent and healthy manner.
Having boundaries is knowing when to say 'No' and ask for emotional and physical space. Boundaries are beneficial for your psychological and emotional well-being. Continuing to identify and communicate your boundaries is a lifelong process. Boundaries will evolve and change as your emotional needs changes over time. Being a perpetual people pleaser often leaves you feeling resentful, disrespected and unfulfilled. You deserve to be honored and fully considered in any relationship. Boundaries are building blocks to self love!