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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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