Do you feel guilty when you say “NO’’ to your parents?
Do you feel overwhelmed by the requests and expectations of your family members?
Do you ever feel like you are constantly helping people close to you and fix their problems all the time ?
If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, then you might have to set boundaries within your relationships. Whether you’re dealing with romantic partners, family, friends, or coworkers, it's not always easy to understand what boundaries are or how to communicate them. For example, within romantic relationships, it may be easier for you to sacrifice your needs out of concern of upsetting your partner. Whereas with your family, you may feel hurt when your decisions/opinions are not respected, and you don’t know how to express that to them. You might feel taken advantage of when your friend keeps on asking you for money. With a co-worker, you may often find yourself agreeing to work on the weekends to help them. Not being able to set or communicate your boundaries within your relationships can be frustrating and unsatisfying over time and your well-being can suffer. These include feelings of anger, resentment or guilt.
How to set boundaries:
“In a nutshell, it’s knowing how to separate your feelings or ‘stuff’ from someone else’s,” says U.K.-based psychologist Dr.Tara Quinn-Cirillo. “As human beings we have our own thoughts, memories, and lived experiences, and sometimes that can become very blurred with someone else’s. Boundaries are healthy for helping you identify and keep that space.” Setting Personal boundaries is a life skill that we practice by openly communicating and asserting personal values as a way to preserve and protect against having them compromised or violated. In general, “Healthy boundaries are those boundaries that are set to make sure mentally and emotionally you are stable” (Prism Health North Texas, n.d.).
In every kind of relationship, it's hard to have your needs met if you don’t know what they are. Asking yourself questions and assessing your feelings is a good place to start.
1. Know what you actually want in your relationship
• What are my priorities & goals in life?
• How do I like to spend my time?
• What behaviours bother me?
• What makes me feel fulfilled?
2. Assess your feelings:
• Do I feel pressured to do things that do not match my values?
• Do I feel overwhelmed by people's expectations of me?
• Do I feel disrespected by other people's comments ?
3. Communicate your needs to the other person
Communicating boundaries within relationships can be tough and awkward at first. Below are some tips that will help you establish boundaries within your relationships.
Find a Calm Moment: Work through your feelings (anger, resentment etc) first in a safe & healthy way. Wait for the peaceful moment to have a conversation in a respectful way.
Be prepared: Nervous about discussing your needs? Write your points down before the discussion so that you can speak clearly about your needs.
How to deliver: It is always good to express your emotions using “I” statements. For example, you can say, “I feel overwhelmed with all the expectations you have from me”
Be Assertive: Sate your boundaries in a calm but firm manner. Instead of just saying “I would like more personal space” try saying “I feel disrespected and uncomfortable when you come into my room unannounced. I would really appreciate it if you could knock before entering.”
Express your appreciation when boundaries are respected:
Acknowledge them that you are grateful that they value you enough to respect the boundaries you have put into place.
Let others take responsibility for their emotions: You often care about how other people feel and react to your words and actions. However, you shouldn’t feel responsible for how the other person reacts to the boundary. For example, they might be upset that you’re asking for more “me time.” Remind yourself why you’re setting the boundary in the first place.
Reciprocate: Be sure to ask your significant other what boundaries they need to establish and do your best to honor them.
Here are some examples of how you can apply boundaries to common scenarios:
Want personal space? “I need 15 minutes to relax after work before we invite the relatives over. If you invite them over before I’ve relaxed, I’m going to go relax in private and you will need to entertain them until I come down..”
Feeling overwhelmed? “I don't want to talk about this subject while I'm at work because I need to focus.”
Share opinions honestly? “It hurts me when we disagree on some point and you tell me my opinion is wrong. It makes me feel like you don’t respect my views. If you say that my opinion is wrong, I will remind you not to, and end the discussion if you continue to say it.”
Managing your money? “No, I can’t loan you money for your new shoes” or “I want to go on a nice vacation with you, but we need to discuss our contribution of the vacation funds. I would make my share to it”
Setting time limits? “I would come to your party but as I had a stressful work week, so, maybe I will be there for 1-2 hrs and will go back soon as I have some other things related to my personal life or house chores.”
Overcoming difficulties while setting boundaries
Fear of conflict is the most common difficulty while setting boundaries, you don’t want to upset or anger people you love, so you might hesitate to be emotionally open with them. However, even when your boundaries provoke anger or resistance, it doesn't mean you shouldn't set them. It means that you need to ask for help and take steps to keep yourself safe (such as not being alone with a person who is threatening, aggressive, or volatile). Sometimes it helps to remember that when people resist your boundaries, it's confirmation that the boundaries are needed.
Due to people-pleasing tendencies, you might allow people around you to do things that make you uncomfortable and because of you having low self-esteem, you might prioritise others' needs before yours. As a result, people fail to recognize your discomfort. In such cases, trying to identify what makes you please other people before you. Ask yourself, Were you told to do this directly or indirectly from people in your life? Or Is it because of your past experiences in life? Thus by evaluating yourself, you can understand and try balancing your needs with the needs of others.
Sometimes, feelings of guilt would not allow you to put your boundaries in place with your parents and family members. Just remind yourself, this is because it's new, not because you're doing something wrong. Your needs are valid and you have the right to set boundaries, even with your parents.
Fear of being seen as selfish/arrogant did not allow you to speak for yourself. Remind yourself that setting boundaries is actually a form of self-care, something you do for your own wellbeing. You should know and understand that it’s okay to stand firm in your convictions. It does not mean that you are being selfish or difficult. This in turn leads to fewer conflicts, more respectful and transparent communication.
However, not everyone in your life is going to respect your boundaries all of the time. Therefore, be prepared for them to push back and Restate your needs if necessary. Have clear and reasonable consequences for crossing a boundary. If someone has a habit of talking over you, for example, you could say, “I feel disrespected when you talk over me. If you do that again, I'll have to end the conversation.” These points can help you with dealing with difficulties while setting boundaries within your relationships.
Setting boundaries is a process, and it takes time to learn how to do it effectively. If you would like more help to identify your boundaries and customised tips on how to set boundaries within your relationships, then do setup some time with our counsellors at The Able Mind who will be able to guide you through this process and assist you in building healthy relationships.
Download The Able Mind app from Google Playstore / App Store and start your journey to making your Mental health a priority.
Author: Harsh Sardana Sood, The Able Mind