Updated: Mar 31
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Are you having challenges in your relationships and feel that your needs aren’t being met? Do you struggle to raise concerns and advocate for yourself when a line is crossed or if you are uncomfortable with something another person said or did?
If yes, then you may find this post helpful as it focuses on healthy boundaries, which are the limits that enable a person to feel heard, valued, respected, and appreciated in a relationship. In this post, you will learn some strategies that can help you create healthy boundaries in different relationships, whether this is with a partner, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, etc.
Learning to create boundaries in your social network can be very hard to do. It’s difficult to even know where to start. Consider some of the examples below and see if any of them stand out – or if you can phrase it a little differently to fit with your voice and unique social situation.
“I’d love to see you but I can’t this week – how about next week?”
“I am not comfortable talking about that issue – thanks for understanding”.
“I appreciate you being there for me – I feel that I need some space right now but I will reach out again when I am ready to talk”.
“Thanks for offering your advice but I need to handle this problem in my own way based on what works best for me”.
These ideas tend to start off with acknowledging the other person’s effort and positive intention, but end with a statement that firmly yet respectfully describes what you need, and implies that you are not willing to give into something that feels non-negotiable to you.
The phrases above are just a few suggestions – feel free to develop phrases that match your communication style and approach. You can practice saying these statements out loud a few times in front of a mirror to gain confidence and even write them down as helpful reminders for the next time you are in a tough situation with a loved one.
This is often hardest at the beginning but it can get easier with time and practice.
Protect your time and energy
If you find that you are getting sucked into conversation topics that don’t feel good to you or if you are drained after certain social interactions, then this may be a sign that you need to start protecting your time and energy.
This could mean limiting how often you see a certain person and expressing when you are available and not available so that you can reach a compromise that works for both of you. It could also involve setting a period of time that you can engage with them so that it doesn’t absorb your entire day or evening.
Being able to prioritize time for yourself, your hobbies, self-care, and other important relationships in your life is necessary to help you feel relaxed, rested, peaceful, and energetic to tackle the daily demands that you deal with each and every day.
Notice what difference it makes to protect your time and energy in regards to how you feel as you start and end your day.
Don’t take responsibility for other people’s feelings
In your relationships, you may notice that others are frustrated, angry, irritated, sad, etc. in response to the new boundaries you are trying to put in place.
They are entitled to their emotions – just as you are yours. But this doesn’t mean that you need to take on their feelings. Just because they feel that way doesn’t mean that what you are doing is wrong. Remember that. You get to choose what works best for you.
Learn to sit with your discomfort around the fact that they are unhappy or upset with you and try to stay firm with your new limits as much as you can. I know it’s hard – hang in there – you’re doing a great job!
Don’t give in to pressure from others
There will come a time when you may receive an extreme amount of pressure to drop your boundaries and confirm to family, social, and cultural norms.
Norms that state the sake of the group is more important than the individual. Norms that imply you need to do what’s right according to others even if that conflicts with your own beliefs and values. Norms that suggest you are being rude, disrespectful, inappropriate, or some other negative term if you don't meet others' needs.
As hard as this will be, try your best to not give in to pressure. What you want and need to feel happy, at ease, and peaceful is just as important as other people’s perspectives of what you should – or shouldn’t do – in regards to your time, energy, pursuits, relationships, and other life factors.
Reframe feelings of guilt and shame
While you are trying to maintain your boundaries, you could be experiencing a lot of guilt and shame around not listening to your family, friends, or other important people in your life who feel you should do otherwise.
It’s normal for you feel this way as this is a new behaviour that you have never tried before and you may actually be the first person to make this change in your social circle. If you can begin to see your actions as bravery, advocacy, and courage, then you might notice these twinges of guilt and shame dissolve or at least lessen over time.
Honour your own needs
What does honouring your own needs look like? This could mean having more alone time, suggesting an activity that you want to do or are interested in trying with a loved one, not doing something you feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing, and considering your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs as you try to establish new boundaries.
Take a moment to really think about what you need, what you’ve been wanting for some time, and what you previously were told you couldn’t or shouldn’t do that you now want to explore. Use these discoveries to help shape your new boundaries so that they reflect your vision of who you are, your goals for the future, and how you want to be in the world.
Respect others’ needs
Just as you are trying to honour your own needs, you also need to respect other people’s needs.
Ask the important people in your life about what they need, want, and are hoping for. Help them become comfortable with sharing their own thoughts and feelings. Show them that you are open to being there for them just as how you would like them to be there for you. Create a safe space in which you can both speak openly and freely without judgment.
Be selective of who is in your life
At the end of the day, you need to make some important decisions about who you keep in your life and who you let go of or at least distance yourself from.
The bottom line is that, if someone continues to ignore, dismiss, or disrespect your boundaries, then it may be helpful for you to figure out how much time and energy you would like to devote to this relationship knowing that it likely leaves you feeling drained and distraught.
If you are having a hard time making a choice, perhaps getting some distance will help you gain more clarity and insight into your next steps.
Boundaries can be seen as a highly emotionally-charged and difficult topic that is challenging for all involved.
As stressful as this can be, it is vital that you feel heard, respected, valued, and appreciated in your social network. Deciding on what you are comfortable being flexible with and what you need to be firm about (non-negotiables) when developing boundaries is part of the process of building healthy and fulfilling relationships.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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