By Lisa Clodfelter, Licensed Professional

Boundaries allow you to protect your energy. They allow you to feel less overwhelmed, stressed, and resentful.  Once you get the hang of boundaries, relationships begin to hold more meaning and confidence and self-esteem starts to build. This is the good news. The bad news? First, you’ll be scared to death.

Most of us have never learned to create boundaries in the first place; let alone hold them.

Almost all of us struggle with boundaries because we never saw the adults in our families have them. Mothers who never said no (even if they were exhausted) or fathers who did for everyone else before himself. Some families also exist in a culture that requires children to  give ground on their boundaries to avoid conflict or punishment. Our society tends to reward these types of behaviors without taking note of the emotional and physical cost. The state of the health and well-being of those without boundaries should cause us as a society to consider NOT rewarding these behaviors.

Without healthy boundaries overwhelm inevitably takes hold, resentment sets in, tempers flare, and connection breaks down.  Sometimes disease will even manifest. 

How do you know if you don’t set clear boundaries?

  • Saying the word “no” gives you massive fear and anxiety.  You begin to think of all the justifying and rationalizing you can use as to why you need to decline a request.  Remember, the word “no” is a complete sentence. When you need to practice using it and you feel dread, guilt, fear, and anxiety – those are clear signs you need to do some serious work in the boundary setting department.
  • You feel guilty when you put your own needs over the wants of someone else. Not wanting to engage in conflict is normal.  Wanting others to be pleased with us is also normal. But when these come at the expense of your own feelings that’s a sign your self esteem needs some work. Establishing boundaries does that very thing.
  • You rarely ask, “what do I want”. Thinking of ourselves in every situation is self-care, not being selfish. When we lack boundary setting skills, we literally lose our “self” in the process.

People with clear boundaries live the most satisfying lives.  Healthy boundary setting skills takes practice and feels super scary in the beginning.  But if you can hang on and commit, you’ll eventually find it has become second nature.

Some tips for setting clear boundaries:

  • Understand the feelings of other’s is not your responsibility. How people feel about your actions is based on their own experiences in the world.  Others may feel you’re “selfish” or “rude”, but they have little or nothing to do with you.
  • Say “no” and then walk away. Typically, the hard part of saying no to someone is their subsequent reaction.  It’s incredibly important to remove yourself from that person once you’ve set your boundary.  It may mean leaving the room, turning off your phone, or leaving the premises.  To begin setting boundaries, it’s all about feeling OK with saying NO. The most effective way to do that is to block out responses.
  • Action speaks louder than words. One of the challenging things about boundaries is they require follow up action.  We are largely verbal creatures.  We tend to try and justify, explain, and apologize when we turn down a request. Here’s where we need to try and commit to our decided action (or inaction) and avoid justification.  Sometimes this is best communicated with action and not words.