Growing up in collectivistic culture at home, boundaries were not a celebrated tool in my family. They were perceived to be selfish at times – unhelpful to the entire family unit. As I grew older, I came to realize just how important healthy boundaries are – with family members, friends, coworkers – to maintain my overall well-being.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, boundaries are limits that define acceptable behavior. Healthy boundaries are those created to maintain physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
How To Create Healthy Boundaries
I do want to preface this section by saying that the examples are for educational purposes only – some of them may not apply to your experience or situation. If you are in an abusive relationship whether with a romantic partner, family member, or friend, setting a boundary can be dangerous – please seek help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Please consult with a mental health professional to discuss what options may be most applicable or helpful for you!
- Identify your boundaries: one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is recognize how we feel during certain situations. If you find yourself feeling:
- Anxious when your mother is complaining about your father to you
- Annoyed when your partner invites friends over without consulting with you
- Angry when your child plays with the soccer ball indoors
it may be time to set some healthy boundaries in place. Sometimes utilizing a feelings wheel can help us gain better insight into our feelings and needs.
- Communicate your boundaries: follow the “I-statements” method. Starting your statements with “I feel…” versus “You did…” takes judgement away, preventing the person you are speaking with from getting defensive or feeling attacked. Depending on who you are speaking with, it may be helpful to validate the other person’s feelings (can be an especially helpful tool when talking to your parents to show respect). You do NOT need to “over explain” the reason for your boundary – your healthy boundaries are your right.
- “It sounds like you feel very hurt. I feel anxious and scared when you talk about dad to me like this. I love you and respect you and I cannot be here for you in this way.”
- “I feel upset when you don’t ask me before inviting others to our home. I understand they are your friends, and I would appreciate knowing who is coming over to our home in advance.”
- “I know you want to play with your soccer ball, and soccer balls are not for playing indoors. If you want to play, you have to play outside otherwise I will have to take your ball away.”
- Communicate consequences: if you find your boundaries have been crossed multiple times – it may be helpful to associate a consequence while communicating the boundary. A consequence is NOT a threat, but at times can look like an ultimatum – especially if you find yourself being mistreated constantly in a relationship, the consequence of breaking your boundary could be ending the relationship for your overall well-being.
Healthy Boundaries With Parents
“It sounds like you feel very hurt. I feel anxious and scared when you talk about dad to me like this. I love you and respect you and I cannot be here for you in this way.”
Boundaries with parents can be the most difficult sometimes – depending on your parents’ culture and your relationship with them. For myself, the example above brought up feelings of anxiety and fear of disappointment. Due to my parents’ collectivistic culture, when setting boundaries I found that it was helpful at times to avoid being in certain situations as to avoid offending them. For example, if following the scenario above, saying something like, “I can’t talk now I have to do some work that is due tonight!”
Another important factor to name when setting boundaries with parents is the idea that we may feel guilty for not helping them. It is important to recognize and differentiate our role as a child and what responsibilities that entails and does not entail.
Healthy Boundaries With Partners
“I feel upset when you don’t ask me before inviting others to our home. I understand they are your friends, but I would appreciate knowing who is coming over to our home in advance.”
Boundaries with romantic partners are important to cultivate a strong, positive relationship versus cultivating contempt and resentment. With the couples I work with and even in my own relationship with my husband, I have found that it is easy to attack our partners by blaming them for their actions as opposed to understanding and communicating how we feel as a result of their action. As shown in the example, I started it with “I feel” versus “Why did you invite them over?” Starting a question or statement with “you” or “why” immediately puts the other on the defensive.
Healthy Boundaries With Children
“I know you want to play with your soccer ball, and soccer balls are not for playing indoors. If you want to play, you have to play outside otherwise I will have to take your ball away.”
Setting boundaries with children may look like setting limits – validating what they are wanting to do, but being firm AND kind in establishing the limit and consequence of their behavior. To learn more about setting limits and boundaries read our posts about Positive Discipline or attend one of our workshops.
It takes practice and time to create healthy boundaries. If you find that identifying your boundary, communicating it and the consequence of not following it are not working in your relationships, it may be beneficial to weigh the pros and cons of the relationship and decide if it is healthy for you. Wishing you all healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationships!