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Published on May 12, 2020

9 Ways to Build and Keep Healthy Personal Boundaries

9 Ways to Build and Keep Healthy Personal Boundaries

How would your life change if you were able to maintain personal boundaries? This includes stopping people from overstepping into your personal space, as well as sticking to the personal boundaries that you set for yourself later.

This ideal world is possible. All it takes is a little know-how and practice. Self-awareness, values, and assertiveness are qualities that play a part in maintaining strong boundaries that we will explore further in this article.

What you will find here is an explanation of personal boundaries, why you need them in your life, and 9 expert tips to get you started.

Let’s dive in…

What Are Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the limits that you set when it comes to what you expect from a person and how they behave towards you. They indicate what you find acceptable and unacceptable in someone else’s behavior, particularly with someone that you are close to, such as family, friends, or a partner.

Personal boundaries can be set in almost any area of your life. You can be quite strict about what hours during the day you will answer phone calls, but quite flexible in terms of your text responses. You might not appreciate anyone raising their voice at you in any circumstance, but you may not mind people telling you what to do all the time — as long as it is in a quieter tone.

Personal boundaries can be restrictive or free depending on your own personality and preferences. Other common domains of personal boundaries include personal space, sexuality, time, energy, interaction, communication, religion, and ethics. However, personal boundaries are by no means limited to these things.

Why Are Personal Boundaries Important?

The fundamental reason why people set boundaries is to try and create stronger relationships with themselves and other people. Personal boundaries are an essential part of any thriving relationship and should never be overlooked.

Just like fences and walls in the physical world are used to determine where you can and can’t go, what is yours and what isn’t yours, personal boundaries determine how far others can go before crossing the line.

They stop people from walking all over you. They stop people from manipulating you. They stop people from getting too far into your personal business.

Why is this important? Because what is yours is yours. You are unique, and just like every other human on this earth, you have things that you are comfortable with and things that make you really uncomfortable. You have preferences, you have hang-ups, and you have challenges that are unique to you. They are for you to deal with, no-one else.

That’s why personal boundaries are important. They let other people know where they can step and where they can’t. Boundaries open and close, expand and contract all the time — you just need to let people know.

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All of this is also a reminder to be accepting and conscious of other people’s personal boundaries, too. This is especially important in couples as partners inhabit each other’s most intimate spaces, including physical, emotional, and sexual areas[1].

The result? Healthy relationships that thrive on mutual respect, trust, and happiness.

Now that’s something worth striving for, isn’t it?

How to Set Personal Boundaries

Just like anything else in life, in order to become an expert at setting and being comfortable with personal boundaries, you have to practice. Luckily, we have 9 amazing ways for you to get started and to start reclaiming your own life.

Are you ready?

1. Identify Your Boundaries

It is impossible to begin setting personal boundaries when you don’t even know what they are or where they lie. This is why the starting point for anyone who feels like they may need more/fewer boundaries is to identify where they currently stand.

Are you getting pushed around too often? Or are you completely resistant to any change?

Do you find yourself arguing with people a lot? Or do you find it difficult to speak up when you know you should?

Everybody has different starting points when it comes to their personal boundaries, and those boundaries will inevitably change with time. The first thing you should do, though, is to find your starting point.

2. Determine Your Values

One of the best ways to identify what your boundaries are and how you want them to change is to determine what your values in life are.

If you value creative freedom and thinking time, consider placing a strong boundary around your personal space and your free time.

If you value the small things in life over the big, extravagant things, maybe consider loosening your boundaries a little to let more serendipity in.

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If you value yourself or you want to start valuing yourself more highly, start placing firmer boundaries around how people speak to you and treat you.

Whatever your unique personal values are, your personal boundaries that you set are going to be what helps you to maintain them.

3. Start Simple

As touched upon already, any skill in life requires not only practice to reach a desired level, but also regular reviews and maintenance to make sure that skill doesn’t disappear. Setting personal boundaries is no different.

Rather than completely pushing back on people that are overstepping, turning your back on every single aspect of your old beliefs, or selling all of your stuff to live in a remote forest, there are small steps that you can and should take first.

If you have a friend that always calls you to make plans, and you feel pressured into doing so, politely tell them that you don’t want to this week. What will happen? Not much, probably. This small step will give you the confidence to say no again in future weeks when you don’t feel like going out.

If you feel like you are getting too much input and overwhelming information from your phone, my favorite hack is to delete the troublesome apps for a day. Missing them? Download them again tomorrow. Didn’t miss them as much as you thought? See what another day without them is like[2].

It is just as important to set boundaries with yourself and your own routines as it is to set boundaries with other people. The only way to begin in both respects is to start simple.

4. Listen to Your Feelings

If you aren’t sure about where your personal boundaries should be, it might be a good idea to check in with your feelings and the sensations in your body every now and then[3]. These will usually give you an excellent indication.

Signs to look out for include an increased heart rate, sweating, tightness in your chest or stomach, and other general feelings of discomfort. Of course, just because you feel these sensations does not mean that you should close yourself up to the world — that won’t help you in any way.

Your feelings are like directions on the side of the road. They will let you know what areas that you should probably investigate a little further.

5. Learn to Say No

Possibly the biggest stumbling block that people who struggle with setting personal boundaries have is that they find it extremely difficult to say no.

This comes in all sorts of packages. You might find it impossible to say no to social gatherings for Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). You might find yourself doing loads of favors for people who asked you even though they could have probably done those things themselves.

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You might even have a friend or spouse who encroaches too far into your personal stuff, but you struggle to tell them no because they are your friend or partner. The problem is with you and not them, right?

Probably not. The reason most people face resistance to saying no is that they are worried about how it will make the other person feel. Maybe it’s time to stop and think about how you are feeling for once.

You are allowed to say no without an explanation[4]. It likely won’t affect the other person nearly as much as you think it will. As an article on Healthline

In most instances, people will be fine with you saying no. Perhaps even more surprisingly, you might find that people actually respect you more because you have personal boundaries.

On the flip side, if the person reacts poorly to your personal boundaries, it’s their problem, not yours. In fact, they’ve just made it even easier for you to realize that you probably don’t need them in your life.

6. Be Assertive

This ties in very closely with the previous point about saying no. The importance of being assertive when setting your personal boundaries cannot be emphasized enough — whether with yourself or with other people.

Remember, this doesn’t mean being cruel or insensitive. Being assertive simply means stating what you want or need in a clear manner without beating around the bush.

If you aren’t assertive with people when trying to set boundaries — especially if you have had issues setting them in the past — expect them to not to take you seriously and life to go on as it did before.

7. Set Consequences

Setting consequences is one of the most important actions that you can take to ensure that your personal boundaries don’t get overstepped.

What stops people from breaking the law? Consequences. What stops children from misbehaving? Consequences. What is going to stop people from violating your personal boundaries? Consequences.

People will try and get away with whatever they can. If you don’t put your foot down, your boundaries won’t be taken seriously. The consequences don’t have to be drastic, just a stern rebuke will usually do the trick.

Make sure that you not only set consequences but also stick to them, otherwise they won’t be taken seriously.

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8. Practice Self-Awareness

You have probably been recommended some sort self-awareness or mindfulness practice at some stage for a certain part of your life, and setting boundaries is no different. The benefits of self-awareness touch every single aspect of your being and your life.

When you are aware of your thoughts and feelings and what they are doing for you (or to you), you can start to work out where specific boundaries need to be set.

For example, if you are an overthinker, and your thoughts begin to race whenever you are in a situation, be aware of this. Set a boundary with yourself that whenever a negative thought pops into your mind, you will let it go. No matter what. It won’t have anything useful to say, so don’t fall for it.

Of course, this can apply to other people, too. However, self-awareness and boundaries with yourself not only go hand-in-hand, but are essential to a life of peace and joy.

9. Seek Support

A common mistake to make when trying to set personal boundaries is that you have to do it alone. You have to plan everything yourself, enforce everything yourself, and work out what is and what isn’t working for yourself. That simply isn’t true.

If you find yourself struggling or simply want an easier ride, talk to your friends, family, or spouse about the boundaries that you will set and explain why. You might think that opening up will create arguments and resistance, but more often than not, people appreciate you letting them know.

Setting boundaries can be extremely difficult though, whether that be setting them with other people or setting them with yourself. Don’t ever have any shame about seeking professional help. If you feel like your life will greatly benefit from help, then it is something that you absolutely should consider getting.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. Hopefully, this article has done its job and illuminated what a life with excellent personal boundaries can look like and created a roadmap on how you can get there.

As with anything in this life, practice makes perfect. Don’t sweat it if you mess up on the path. Just get back up and keep going!

More Tips on Creating Personal Boundaries

Featured photo credit: Anika Huizinga via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Daniel Riley

Daniel is a writer who specialises in personal development and helping others become the best version of themselves.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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