3 tips to set boundaries in 2023

If you have trouble setting boundaries, you are not alone.

As kids, we were in tune with our wants and needs. But when grown ups told us to do the “polite” thing, our boundaries eroded and we learned to people-please, denying ourselves our true needs. Many of us still put other’s needs above our own. Setting boundaries helps to honour what we actually want and need, and is an amazing way to show ourselves kindness and respect.

Boundaries are essential to our wellbeing. You can think of them as the ultimate act of self-care. Here are some tips to get started with setting boundaries.

But first, what are boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits you put in place with those around you. They could look like leaving work on time, telling your family to call ahead before coming over, or not exchanging social media passwords with your partner.

Boundaries are limits that you uphold and ask others not to cross. They help us to have healthy relationships with work, family, friends and partners.

Get started setting boundaries with these tips.

Tip 1: ‘No’ is a full sentence.

Your boundary doesn’t require an explanation. You can say no to after-work drinks without explaining why. You have the right to say no without providing an excuse or justification. ‘No’ is a full sentence.

Tip 2: You are not responsible for how others feel about your boundaries

Oftentimes, boundaries will be understood and accepted. In other cases, they may be seen as a personal attack. A person may become defensive or whinge about this new change.

You are not responsible for the way someone reacts to your boundaries and you also have no control over how they will respond. It can however be beneficial to set a boundary with someone when they are having a good day so they are more receptive to hear what you are saying.

Tip 3: Stick to your boundaries

It can feel uncomfortable to enforce boundaries. Especially when someone hasn’t responded to your boundary positively. Remember, you set your boundaries for a reason, whether it be to preserve a friendship, protect your mental health, or conserve your energy. The discomfort will pass and you will be grateful you set boundaries that prioritise your wellbeing.

Setting boundaries is an ongoing process.

Going through life, you may find the need to set new boundaries. For example, you might start a new job and enjoy spending your lunch breaks with colleagues. But after a few months, you might decide it’s healthier to take some lunch breaks alone. This is okay.

Many new parents experience drastic changes to their lives after having children. This can require new boundaries like asking family members not to pop around unannounced to see the baby. The wonderful thing about becoming a new parent is witnessing how strong children’s boundaries are – boundaries are innate to them. Children will communicate yes or no without hesitation. They will communicate if they do not want to eat something or hug a family member. The best thing we can do as parents is to ensure children grow up ‘in tune’ with their wants and needs. This will help them to have health boundaries growing up.

What happens when boundaries are crossed?

It’s up to you to decide what happens when someone crosses your boundaries. You can ask them not to do it again. You may tell them that if they violate your boundary again, you will need to take time away from the relationship.

It is also valid and reasonable to end a relationship where boundaries are repeatedly violated.

Here’s an example scenario of boundary setting and what can happen when boundaries are crossed:

You have a family member who regularly calls to emotionally dump. These calls leave you feeling mentally drained and strained in your relationship with this person. Whenever their name pops up on your phone, you feel anxious and obliged to answer.

One day, you decide to set a boundary with them for the sake of your relationship. You tell them they must text you and ask if you are in a good headspace before they call. You also tell them you are no longer available for late night calls unless it’s an emergency.

When you set this boundary, they are apologetic and agree to follow it because your relationship is important to them. They follow the boundary for a little while but then the calls and emotional dumping starts happening again.

Because they have violated your boundary, you don’t answer the calls when they ring. You are upholding your boundary, even when you feel guilty about it. Because you know that for the sake of your relationship, you must stick to it.

There are a number of ways your family member could respond to you enforcing your boundary with them:

  • They text you to apologise for attempting to cross your boundary. They ask to go for a coffee later that week to catch up.
  • They continue to disrespect your boundary so you ask for some space from them.
  • They take space from the relationship because they could not respect the boundary.

You have the right to be respected and to set reasonable boundaries that prioritise your health and wellbeing. It can feel uncomfortable to enforce boundaries with the people you care about but remember, you set them for a reason.

There is nothing wrong or flawed about having trouble setting boundaries. It takes a lot of work to change our conditioning. For more support with setting boundaries, you could speak with a psychologist or counsellor, or read some self-help books.

Setting robust and healthy boundaries with the people in your life does not happen overnight. So go easy on yourself and be patient and kind as you learn how to set boundaries that support your mental health and wellbeing.

Find support:

  • DVConnect 1800 811 811
  • Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 010 120
  • VictimConnect 1300 318 940
  • Lifeline 13 11 14

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