boundaries, boundaries in grief

5 Simple Steps to Setting Boundaries (Especially If You’re New at It!)

simple steps to setting boundaries

Setting and upholding personal boundaries is essential to maintaining healthy relationships, including a healthy relationship with yourself!

Boundaries define acceptable and unacceptable behavior, creating a framework for mutual respect and understanding among people (and even animals, as any dog trainer will tell you).

Yet, despite their significance, many people struggle with setting boundaries, especially in grief, due to fear of conflict or a desire to please others.

If this is you, getting started is often the hardest part. So let’s talk about five simple steps to setting boundaries if you’re a newbie!

Before You Begin With These Simple Steps to Setting Boundaries…

Okay, so before you start setting boundaries, it helps to identify your “why.”

You can take notes on this, journal about it, or have a short meditation session. Ask yourself why you want to set boundaries and what you want to achieve by setting them. Imagine what your life would look like if you were a radical boundary-setter.

No, really—imagine it. Like, the details. Who would you spend time with? Where would you go? What would you do? And, most importantly, how would you feel?

When I first imagined myself setting boundaries, all I could feel was fear. I was terrified of actually doing it. But then I thought about what my life would look like if I established healthy boundaries, and when I sat with that image of my new life, I felt free and happy.

Identifying your motivation with setting boundaries will help you stick to the process. And trust me, it is a process!

So identify your why, and then realize these three very important things:

  1. Setting boundaries is not selfish or unkind. It’s an essential part of maintaining healthy relationships. Boundaries provide clarity, prevent misunderstandings, and allow you to be treated the way you want (and deserve) to be treated.
  2. If you can, communicate them early. If you’re here, I’m guessing you’re already in relationships where you should have set boundaries a loooonnggg time ago. Trust me, that was me! But starting now, to avoid confusion or resentment, communicate your boundaries early in a relationship. This sets the tone for healthy and respectful interactions moving forward. Waiting until boundaries have been crossed repeatedly can make it more challenging to enforce them. And, to answer your question, YES—you can and should still set boundaries in your existing relationships. After all, that’s why we’re here, right??
  3. Remember that others have boundaries too. Having boundaries also means respecting the boundaries of others, fostering mutual respect and understanding. So when someone tells you no or expresses a preference (example: “Please don’t text me after midnight”), respect it.

Okay, so now that you have a foundation to start with, let’s discuss these simple steps to setting boundaries!

1. Reflect on Your Needs and Values

You can’t set boundaries if you don’t know what you need boundaries for.

Think back to that life that you imagined. Did it include fewer outings with friends and more time alone? Maybe that means you have a need for more alone time. Or maybe you imagined taking on less at work or having more time with your family.

Reflect on what’s important to you, what makes you feel comfortable, and what your limits are in various situations. Include situations you frequently find yourself in or people you often spend time with. What would you like to change about these situations or relationships?

Understanding your own desires and limits will help you establish boundaries that align with your values. And remember, your boundaries can and will change over time, so you can reassess as necessary!

2. Start Small

Setting boundaries can feel overwhelming, especially if it’s unfamiliar territory to you. A great way to start is to take simple steps to setting boundaries in a low-conflict situation. Or, in other words, start small.

Examples of starting small include:

  • Practicing saying the word “no” when someone asks you for something.
  • Correcting someone when they mispronounce your name.
  • Asking restaurant staff to fix your dish if they got something wrong.
  • Saying no to your boss when they ask you to do more work.

These won’t be low-conflict situations for everyone, so use your best judgment and decide what’s right for you when you’re getting started.

For me, it was helpful to do the above things rather than tackle bigger boundaries, like asking my parents not to come by uninvited or telling my grandparents that I needed them to use my new name.

There are different types of boundaries, so you can even start by setting a small boundary with yourself. When a neighbor would repeatedly text me late at night, one of my boundaries was, “I will not text this person back after 10 p.m.”

By starting small, you will gain confidence and gradually become comfortable with setting more significant boundaries.

3. Be Clear and Direct

When communicating your boundaries, it’s crucial to be clear and direct.

Recovering people-pleasers will probably have a strong urge to explain themselves or say the word “sorry” when setting a boundary. Don’t do it!

There are exceptions to when we should explain ourselves. For example, it can be helpful to explain yourself to a close friend, partner, or family member when setting boundaries. It can help them understand you better and create a stronger relationship.

However, if you have a history of conflict with this person, refrain from explaining yourself. Be clear and direct, and use “I” statements to assert your needs without blaming or attacking the other person. Avoid passive-aggressive or ambiguous language, as it may lead to misunderstandings. Being assertive and respectful in your communication will help establish your boundaries effectively.

Bad example of boundary-setting: “Sorry, but you need to stop yelling at me when we argue.”

Good example of boundary-setting: “I need you to stop yelling at me when we argue. If you yell, I will leave the conversation.”

4. Hold Your Ground

Even these simple steps to setting boundaries can be hard if you’re new at it. But preparing is important because often the hardest part about boundaries isn’t setting them—it’s sticking to them.

If you’re setting boundaries in a relationship or with yourself, you’ve likely had your lines crossed way too many times. It’s usually easier for people to keep letting those lines be crossed than to stop letting them be crossed.

I experienced this when I first started setting boundaries. It is tough!  So how can you hold your ground?

  1. Be prepared. Know that not everyone will respond positively or immediately respect your limits. Some people may push back against your boundaries, and chances are, you have a good idea of who those people are. So be mindful that they may ignore your boundary or violate it.
  2. Restate yourself. If needed, repeat your boundary. You will likely need to do this several times, and that’s okay. Refrain from explaining yourself unless it’s appropriate, given the situation. Otherwise, restate and then follow through!
  3. Disengage. Sometimes, we need to disengage from someone who is testing our limits. If you need to, end the conversation, leave the room, go for a run, do whatever you need to do to protect yourself when others are violating your boundaries, testing your limits, or questioning why you need things done a certain way. People do not need to understand your boundaries in order to respect them, so disengage when things are getting to be too much.

Not everyone will agree with or understand our boundaries, but that doesn’t mean we can’t remain committed to our self-care and well-being.

5. Practice Self-Care

Setting and maintaining boundaries can be emotionally challenging, so it’s really important to practice self-care after setting a boundary.

It can be super uncomfortable to set a boundary, no matter how well you execute it. Engaging in self-care can help you cope with the discomfort, which, as Nedra Glover-Tawwab writes, is part of the boundary-setting process.

What does practicing self-care look like after following simple steps to setting boundaries? They can be any activities that help lower your stress and invoke a feeling of comfort. After setting a boundary, I find activities such as these helpful:

  • Reading a fiction book
  • Going for a run
  • Watching a funny movie or video
  • Talking to my husband about what happened
  • Spending time on social media or online shopping without buying anything

If you grew up without healthy boundaries, you’ll likely feel incredibly guilty and uncomfortable after setting one. You don’t have to suppress these feelings—leave them space to be. Digest them bit by bit as you take care of yourself. By practicing healthy self-care, you will have the energy and clarity to enforce your boundaries effectively.

You Don’t Have to Go at It Alone

Remember that boundary-setting is a process, and finding what works best for you and your relationships may take time. Embrace the journey, as these simple steps to setting boundaries will ultimately lead to healthier and more fulfilling relationships—and you’ll be happier and freer as well.

If you find it difficult to set or maintain boundaries, you’re absolutely not alone. Getting support from a coach, therapist, or even just talking to a friend about boundaries can be helpful while navigating this process. Surrounding yourself with supportive individuals can make the process easier and increase your confidence in setting healthy boundaries!

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