How to More Effectively Set Boundaries, According to Therapists
There comes a time when you have to tell the people in your life, “No.” Maybe it’s an overbearing family member, maybe it’s a partner who’s too pushy, maybe it’s a friend who tends to interfere, or maybe it’s a boss who thinks you should be available 24/7. When these situations come up, you might have to start setting some boundaries so you can take care of your own mental health and well-being.
Setting these boundaries with people in your life can be hard, especially if confrontation stresses you out. Boundaries are important, though, as is your mental health, which is why we spoke with three therapists to get their advice on how to talk to the people you’re having problems with and start setting those boundaries. They provided a roadmap for what you can do, from beginning to end, but all three also shared that if it becomes too much, you should seek help from a therapist. Keep reading to see their advice.
Understand the Boundaries You Need
Your first step to setting boundaries in any aspect of your life is to understand exactly what you need. Britney Blair, PsyD, a cofounder of sexual wellness app Lover, highly recommends this as a starting point. “The first step in setting healthy boundaries is to recognize what you want and need and work backwards from there,” Dr. Blair told POPSUGAR. “For example, you know you need a half-hour wind-down time before bed and that time needs to be calming with no stressful or difficult conversation.”
Ask yourself what boundaries you want to set with the people in your life, whether it’s your friends, your family, your partner, or someone at work. Understanding your needs will help you get on the path to healthier relationships.
Ask Yourself These Questions
After you’ve figured out the boundaries you want to set, you need to continue that inner monologue and ask yourself the important questions. “When struggling to establish or maintain boundaries, it is helpful to break down the circumstances surrounding the issue,” Diana Concannon, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and the dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, told POPSUGAR.
“Be curious and nonjudgmental,” Dr. Concannon explained. “Ask: Is this a struggle I have generally, or with a particular individual or situation? What would setting an appropriate boundary look like to me? Is there a consequence I fear or dread if I set an appropriate boundary? Is it possible to discuss this situation directly with the individual with whom I am experiencing this struggle to diffuse the situation? If not, what would make me feel most comfortable in taking the risk in setting the boundary I need? What will I do to support myself if the consequence I dread occurs?”
These questions will all help you figure out how to start having the necessary conversations to set boundaries in your life, especially if even the thought of taking that first step stresses you out. It can be understandably scary to have to put up walls between you and those in your life, but the conversation starts within.
You’ve settled on your boundaries. You’ve psyched yourself up to start the discussion. Now you have to communicate properly. Even if you haven’t done the first two things, communicating effectively can go a long way in establishing boundaries.
“Communicating clearly and with an open heart what we can give, want to receive, enjoy, and what makes us uncomfortable are some of the fundamental ways we can establish boundaries in any relationship,” Dr. Concannon said. Making sure you’re on the same page as the person you’re having issues with is key to getting on track.
Boundaries can vary greatly – which is why it’s important to figure out what you need first – but the person in question won’t know about those boundaries until you tell them. It’s imperative for a healthy relationship, both professional and personal, to keep those lines of communication open.
When it comes to romantic relationships, “have an open conversation with yourself and your partner about what you are needing and wanting in the relationship,” Dr. Blair explained. “Often people who struggle to set boundaries have a fragile sense of self and may feel they are unworthy of respect and of their needs and wants being met.”
Be Prepared For a Discussion
There’s a chance that once you’ve started to set these boundaries in your life, those on the other side might argue or have questions or concerns. Be prepared for this, Michael Kinsey, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of Mindsplain, told POPSUGAR. “Go into a boundary-setting situation knowing that you will most likely not meet a receptive audience,” he said. “The hardest boundaries to set are ones that must be established in relationships where the word ‘no’ is implicitly treated as taboo.”
This can be really hard if you’re not a person who does well with confrontation or any kind of rift in a relationship. If you’re setting boundaries with someone who isn’t receptive, you still need to be able to explain why it’s important to you. Hopefully these healthy boundaries won’t ruin a relationship, but if that’s the case, there’s a chance that the boundaries were only part of the issue in the first place. Also, if boundary-setting is causing more problems than you expected, this might be a time to see a therapist or mediator who can help with the situation.
Be a Broken Record
If you say no and it’s ignored, continue saying no. Don’t give in. Dr. Kinsey refers to this as the broken record method. “Set the boundary politely and tactfully in the way you ordinarily would. If you’re feeling generous, and depending on how [they react] to the boundary, remind them that you already responded and would appreciate that they respect your wishes,” Dr. Kinsey explained. “If a firmer approach is necessary, simply state, ‘No.’ Say ‘no’ again. Repeat ‘no’ once more. Continue saying ‘no’ confidently, unapologetically, and without hesitation until the pestering stops. If the pestering never stops, exit the conversation.”
Know That This Process Can Take Some Time
Dr. Kinsey explained that the term “extinction burst” is one coined by behaviorists that essentially means that things will probably get worse before they get better. He likened it to a toddler wanting sweets and throwing a tantrum when told no. “Your family will do this too when you set boundaries,” Dr. Kinsey said.
Keep this in mind during the whole boundary-setting process. It can be a difficult task to set these boundaries, but equipped with the advice of therapists, you should have a firm idea of how to put yourself in a healthier place. And if you’re still struggling, find a therapist of your own whom you can talk to. They can help you more with any concerns you may have.