Have you ever felt at a loss when you needed to draw the line with someone?
Have you put yourself at a disadvantage when you failed to draw the boundaries because you couldn’t think of a way to do it?
Have you ever felt mistreated when someone drew a line to your disadvantage?
Setting boundaries is one of the most important parts of a relationship. Everyone must know how to set boundaries. It is the most important thing to have satisfactory relationships with healthy boundaries.
Without agreeable boundaries, most relationships cannot function well. The expression, “good fences make good neighbors,” is true.
How to Set Boundaries for a Peaceful Life?
Keep in mind there are different types of boundaries like physical, emotional, sexual, material, time, and workplace boundaries.
Not all boundaries are well-defined. There are poor boundaries as well; boundaries that are too loose or too strict, boundaries that are self-serving, and boundaries that feel abusive. So what can we do about this? Well, for that, you must know where to draw the line.
Here are the six steps to drawing healthy boundaries and improving your life overall.
Step 1: Know Yourself and Your Needs
This first step in setting boundaries is to make an appointment with yourself. Make yourself comfortable with a notebook so that you can brainstorm your ideas.
You need to create a map in your mind that enables you to confidently respond to boundary conflicts. When you have that map in your mind, you will feel more relaxed and will be able to handle conflict in a way that works for you and the other person.
This is what you have to come to terms with:
- What are my most important values? Being clear about your values helps you identify good compromises. Values are the core of your boundary strategy and what you most need to honor.
- What are my most important priorities? It is easier to say yes or no when you are honoring your most important priorities. To change your ways, you must always start small – pick something minor to say no to. This will give you the necessary confidence boost to show you that people can manage without you and that they will not hold it against you.
- What is non-negotiable for me? Non-negotiable items are related to your values or conditions in your life like your health. It could be family time, diet requirements particularly if you are ill, or values related to doing harm to yourself or others.
- What can I be somewhat flexible about? Scheduling issues typically fall in this category. An example: “I can work between 7 AM-6 PM but have to leave no later than 6 PM to pick up my children.”
- What can I always be flexible about? The answer could include family emergencies, activities that are important to a family member, where I jog, and where I live.
- How do I typically handle trade-offs? Do they usually work for me or not? There is nothing wrong with making sacrifices, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful.
Knowing how to draw boundaries is necessary. When thinking about setting boundaries and making compromises, you are considering the totality of your values, your limits in terms of time and energy, and your desire and ability to sacrifice. These are all important issues to understand.
Your mind and body work very closely together to keep you functioning, trust what it has to say. If a favor makes you uncomfortable and weighty then say no to the request. If the favor asked doesn’t make you uneasy then consider saying yes.
Getting a handle on them keeps you from making commitments in a soft moment when your time will not really allow it, causing you to neglect a more important priority.
Since drawing boundaries is often a unique and complex task, it is worth purchasing some books on the subject. Here are two that can help:
- Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud
- Boundaries Where You End And I Begin: How To Recognize And Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine, M.A.
Step 2: Planning for Problem Situations
We all have difficult boundary situations. Some will involve a bossy person, a passive person, or someone who has different values. Whatever the difficult boundary problems you face, you can help yourself a lot if you plan for them. These are some planning considerations:
- Identify the boundary situations that are most difficult for you.
- For each difficult situation, imagine a time when a conflict was resolved poorly and one that was resolved to your satisfaction.
- Can you identify when conflict causes problems for you? For example, a passive person might sigh or complain as a way to get your attention and take care of their problems. If you give in to the pressure, you have taken on a problem that is not really yours to solve. Sometimes we do not see boundary issues for what they are because they come disguised as something else or because we like to be helpful.
- Try to identify when you start to feel manipulated. Is it when someone is unhappy or complaining? Is it when someone makes decisions for you? Or has expectations that are never discussed or explicitly agreed to? Does someone take your things without asking? These situations usually exist because someone has successfully made themselves more important than you.
- Identify when you are uncomfortable taking action. Is it when someone is very sarcastic, dismissive, or contemptuous? Is it when someone has the power within your group or social approval for their behavior that makes them hard to challenge?
- Identify whether the challenging situation is one that lends itself to the direct one-on-one approach or a longer perhaps more indirect strategy where you need to have a group on your side to effect change.
- Identify when you need to treat yourself as important as everyone else.
Drawing boundaries becomes easier when you have a plan.
Step 3: Develop Your Strategy
As a general rule, most people want good boundaries as much as you do, but they don’t know how to draw boundaries. Most people are not looking for unnecessary problems, and it is where you draw the boundaries.
If you respect others and treat their concerns as valid, they will likely do the same since reciprocity is an ancient rule in human relationships. Therefore when you are willing to listen to another person, it is common courtesy that the other person will do the same. It is not unreasonable to want to be listened to as well.
It also helps to be in a problem-solving frame of mind. If you ask questions to find out where the other person has some flexibility you can then offer solutions in the form of suggestions, alternatives, or even substitutes for what is being asked of you. Since not everyone understands boundaries, you may have to be a leader in finding an agreeable solution.
If I were to create a formula for a boundary setting process, it would be:
- Establish a positive intent: “I love how my blouse looks on you…”
- State a concern: “That blouse was a gift and is important to me.”
- Ask questions if necessary: “We need to figure out a holiday schedule. What is your situation and do you have any ideas?”
- Ask for what you need in a way that respects the other person: “I like to help when I can but I need for you to ask if you want to borrow my things.”
- Get agreement: “Does that work for you?”
Successful problem-solving is a combination of respect and creativity. When you combine both, your chances of a positive outcome increase, and you know where to draw the line.
You can use the ASSA formula as well.
ASSA stands for:
- Alert the individual that you need to talk to them.
- State your issue by revealing to the person what the problem is. Tell them why it’s an issue.
- Sell the advantages to them for acting better towards you. For example, “you will seem professional”.
- Agree. Seek agreement for doing things differently in the future.
Step 4: The Tough Cases
The first thing you have to do in tough cases is to give yourself permission to have the problem. If you feel bad about it you will be less effective in solving the problem.
You also need to give yourself permission to fail because only then will you come up with solutions. Not everyone is cooperative and if you can accept that with good grace, it will help you to relax about conflict. It also helps to know that walking away from a conflict is sometimes necessary and not a sign of failure.
When you have a difficult or stubborn situation, it can help to come up with a way to change the existing dynamic.
Here are some ideas:
- Change the other person’s perception of your value so that you are perceived as important to the other party. Be upfront and honest about saying no. Do not doubt yourself, as people will see that doubt as a window of opportunity, which they will eagerly exploit. If you know what you want to say yes to it becomes easier to say no. Take a step back and assess what you want and your priorities, then accept accordingly.
- Change the social dynamic. You could refuse to interact when someone is unreasonable or use humor to loosen people up when they have dug in their heels. Charm works wonders.
- If necessary, throw in the towel. You may have heard the story about the villagers who caught a monkey by putting peanuts inside a coconut shell. The monkey found and grabbed the peanuts in the shell. However, he could not hold on to the peanuts and run away from the villagers at the same time. All he had to do was let go and he would have escaped. Sometimes letting go is the best way to solve a problem.
Step 5: Implementing Your Strategy
Your experience and comfort level should guide how you decide to implement your boundary implementation strategies. You can start with minor situations with people you know and draw the boundaries that are very important to you.
Step 6: The Key
I believe that the key to setting boundaries and good relationships lies in being in a constructive frame of mind. When the people around you know that you see the good in them, they will be in a positive frame of mind when working with you.
It also helps to have a sense of humor and to be creative.
How to Set Healthy Boundaries
Good relationships are challenging because we are all both alike and different at the same time. Just making the effort to work on boundaries is something for you to feel proud of. When you learn how to set boundaries, you are creating a better world with each positive step. Every time you find positive interpersonal solutions, you essentially help reduce some of the fear and unhappiness in the world. That is a great gift to yourself and others.
Featured photo credit: Dessidre Fleming via unsplash.com
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