Setting healthy boundaries is critical to safeguarding your mental health. Learning how and when to say no preserves your energy for those things that matter the most to you. It says to your psyche, “I’m valuable, and my needs matter, too.”
However, you might struggle to create division between your needs and those of others, particularly if you experienced childhood trauma like growing up in an alcoholic household. Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn how to gently and politely assert yourself. Here are six tips on how to set boundaries and protect your energy bubble.
Boundaries can take many forms, including the following:
Boundaries can also be rigid or flexible. For example, you might refuse to discuss politics with that “one uncle” at the Thanksgiving dinner table but enjoy engaging in civil debates in other circumstances. You might take a job that comes up short on fulfilling your financial needs but makes you feel enriched in other ways.
To set meaningful boundaries, you have to first understand what matters to you and why. Feeling secure in your reasons for setting limits makes it more comfortable to say no with a simple explanation.
Determining what matters to you most in the workplace, for example, is critical to boundary-setting. If you value autonomy and flexibility more than flashy material things, you might decide to take a job that pays less but offers you the freedom to work from home on a schedule that suits you best.
It’s also vital to understand what you want in the personal realm — it can save you significant heartache. For example, you might meet someone who seems wonderful in every way. However, if they adore city life, and you can’t imagine thriving in an urban jungle, you might decide to remain friends and not pursue the relationship further.
Another factor to weigh when setting boundaries is your relationship with the other person. For example, you might welcome a hug from your spouse or children. However, you might hesitate to embrace acquaintances you don’t know as well, especially if you have past trauma related to touch or have medical conditions that put you at a high risk of infectious disease.
This rule is particularly vital when it comes to demands on your time. You might have no problem with extended relatives interrupting your dinner hour with phone calls, for example. However, you might grow resentful if your boss does the same thing night after night.
You can’t expect people to respect your boundaries if you don’t communicate your expectations. However, you don’t want to do so when in the fit of emotional pique, tired or otherwise cranky.
If your work schedule has you feeling frazzled, it helps to set a meeting with your boss to discuss a better balance. Doing so gives you time to prepare a list of suggestions for delegating tasks more equitably and arrange your hours to better suit your needs.
Compassion and clarity matter on the home front. For example, you might hate it when you call your teen’s name, and they reply with a snarky, “what now?” Instead of getting angry or throwing up your hands and walking away, you can practice calmly saying, “I can tell you’re in a bad mood right now. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.”
This tip requires you to use a bit of mindfulness. You know when your boundaries are crossed. You might grow angry, resentful or even nervous and queasy.
It helps to determine what the consequences of crossing the line is and communicate it. For example, if your spouse habitually holds up family meal time by arriving home late due to after-work happy hour, you might decide to go ahead, feed the kids and eat without them.
Remember the golden rule. If you want other people to respect your boundaries, you need to extend them the same courtesy.
For example, if you don’t like your kids walking in on you while you get dressed, you should grant them the same privacy. If you don’t appreciate your boss contacting you after-hours, you should hold your questions until the next business day, not text them while you burn the midnight oil.
Learning how to set healthy boundaries helps you safeguard your mental health. Follow these six tips to kindly and gently assert your limits.