At this point you’ve heard us talk about boundaries AD NAUSEUM. We are obsessed. From our point of view, setting healthy boundaries are at least PART of basically any solution on Blush whether we are discussing family dynamics, career, relationships, friendships, or even helplessness. Boundaries can be made with institutions, people, or even with ourselves.
But what do boundaries actually look like? Feel like? Hell, what even IS a boundary?
We like to define a boundary as the very REAL but invisible line that separates you from something else. This invisible boundary not only protects your space and sets limits on the amount of energy and participation you’re willing to exert, but it also creates a healthy environment for you to thrive and be present in the moments that are beneficial for you and for others in your life.
Today, I’m sharing Blush’s top five tips on setting healthy boundaries so you can reap the benefits of balanced, strong, and sustainable relationships. If you’re more of a video person, don’t fret, Coach Elise recorded these steps in a short video below. Be sure to follow us on Instagram for Five Tip Friday so you never miss out!
Identify Your Current Boundaries
We all have boundaries of some sort. They may not be any good – but they do exist in every relationship. So let’s go over what kind of boundaries you may have currently so you can figure out how you’d like to change them in the future.
Rigid Boundaries: These types of boundaries act more like walls than they do lines of demarcation. Rigid boundaries don’t give you the space or freedom you need to flourish, and they most likely isolate you from others. Rigid boundaries are inflexible, extreme, and sometimes unjustified. They are most likely born out of fear and anxiety rather than confidence or security.
An example of a rigid boundary might look like refusing to offer help to anyone without being offered payment in exchange. While creating a boundary to not do free work constantly is completely understandable and usually acceptable, refusing to offer those who love you without anything in return can be a very rigid boundary to employ. With this boundary in place, you won’t be able to help out a neighbor, a friend, or a family member without turning it into a business transaction. This will absolutely limit the amount of cordial and genuine relationships you have in your life – and therefore acts as a more restrictive measure than a protective one. In fact, people will probably learn quickly not to initiate any interaction with you, because climbing a wall to get to you takes up way too much effort. So alone you’ll be, behind a wall meant to keep everyone out, and only you in.
Loose Boundary: If we are following the “wall” metaphor from above, loose boundaries act more a grass perimeter that’s been walked all over day in and day out. It’s there, but it’s not really there. And it definitely doesn’t deter people from getting where they want to go.
Again, let’s follow the example from above. If a rigid boundary is refusing to help others without payment no matter the situation, then a loose boundary might look like dropping everything to help anyone who asks you regardless of the timing or the effort required. Meaning – you would basically have zero time for your own work, needs, self-care, or desires because you would be constantly running around the clock helping others with their work, needs, self-care or desires. And once word gets around that you have loose boundaries – people come knocking. After all, if it only takes trampling a measly grass perimeter to get what they want, why wouldn’t they?
Flexible Boundary: If a rigid boundary is a wall, and a loose boundary is a grass perimeter, then a flexible boundary is a door. And you can open and close it whenever the hell you want.
But if we’re getting more specific, the tough of flexible boundaries is that there isn’t a constant definition because of their inherent nature – they’re flexible. Healthy boundaries will look different to everyone because they depend on the person’s personality, needs, and wants. Hence, you can open the door for different people or close it for different people – and that’s all at your discretion. Flexible boundaries might start out rigid or loose, but after collecting more information and feedback, have the ability to adapt to the person’s goals. They are allowed to morph and change depending on the situation and the information at hand.
Finishing off the examples above, a flexible boundary might look like having certain requirements in order to drop everything and help a friend out without any expectation of payment. For example, if a friendly neighbor needs a cup of sugar, a flexible boundary would probably allow you to lend that sugar without expecting a replacement of sugar the following day. Neighbors help neighbors with small favors. Another example might be a neighbor who is having a medical emergency and needs you to watch their kids for a few hours while they are being taken to the hospital. Most confident, secure people would immediately drop everything to help their friendly neighbor during this tragic time without expecting compensation for watching their children. However, a flexible boundary can say “no” if the circumstances do not fit into a person’s parameters. For example, if a neighbor constantly asks you to mow their lawn, watch their kids, and help with housework daily – but expects this all for free – most people with strong, flexible boundaries would turn these requests down immediately. Healthy boundaries do not allow people to be exploited for free labor.
Now that we have gone over the three different types of boundaries, take a second to reflect over the type of boundaries you typically instill in your life. Note that in different areas in your life or with different people, you may have loose boundaries, rigid boundaries, or flexible boundaries. For example you may practice loose boundaries with family, but rigid boundaries with friends, and flexible boundaries at work. So try to take some time to account for the different shades of boundaries you practice in life so you know where to start your healthy boundary journey.
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Understand the Importance of Boundaries
Before we dive into setting healthy boundaries, we must first acknowledge that having healthy boundaries is an absolute requirement for healthy relationships. Period.
Bending over backwards and burning yourself out does not bring you more connection or respect in the long run. Shutting everyone out does not grant you inner peace. Instead, being vulnerable and authentic with the people you love will bring you true connection and sustainable relationships. This means clearly communicating what you need and what you expect from pretty much every single person and institution in your life.
People are not mind readers. They don’t know the exact details of what you need and want. In fact, most people just assume we work the same way they do – and that is a grave mistake. We all have different ways of existing in this crazy world, and we all come with certain expectations. The difference is, those who COMMUNICATE those expectations tend to have healthier and stronger relationships.
So, if you want to have strong relationships, then it’s time to learn how crucial setting healthy boundaries is to keep them thriving.
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Know Your Limits
One of the first steps to setting healthy boundaries is getting very familiar with your limits in life. Everyone’s threshold for different activities is different. For example, I am introverted and so the idea of spending an inordinate amount of time with people I don’t know, or don’t care for, is completely and utterly daunting to me. However, my husband, wouldn’t call that same task a chore – he would call it a fun Friday night.
So if I were to enter this marriage not communicating that speaking to strangers for hours on end absolutely drains me, he would probably believe that I was having just as much fun as he is and would continue to plan lots of events packed with strangers.
And I would suffocate. And probably resent him until I got up the nerve to end the marriage.
*That* is how quickly things can go south if you do not understand your own limits.
Not only are you setting yourself up for pure failure, but you’re setting everyone else up around you for failure as well. Again, people are not mind readers. They’re going to assume your limits look like their limits, and so rarely is that ever the case. So it’s up to you to not only identify your limits, but communicate them early and often. State what makes you tick and what makes you want to fall into a coma and never wake up again. But specific. Be dramatic. Be whatever you need to be in order to get the point across. The more you acknowledge your limits, the clearer the expectations will be for everyone involved.
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Be Direct. Be Specific. Be Consistent.
Yes, I’ve already said this. But this is literally the key to knowing how to effectively set healthy boundaries, so I think it deserves its own heading.
Once you know your limits and you understand the parameters you need in order to be your best self – spit them out. And I mean, let it rain.
Do not be afraid to speak your truth even if it feels embarrassing.
I hate that speaking to strangers is a task for me. I truly do. I am envious that my husband gets an actual high from talking with new people. And what’s even worse is that *I* come across as the friendly one, so people assume that I love speaking to new people! It puts me in quite a pickle and honestly I find the whole thing shameful. But you know what? It’s not worth my own mental health and sacrificing my free time to avoid some uncomfy feeling that I’m not as friendly as I *should* be.
So I have to force myself to say that I don’t enjoy hosting a bunch of people I don’t know. I have to admit that I don’t want to go to that party because I don’t know anybody there and frankly I find that host pretty boring. I have to communicate that I don’t want my Friday night to always look like a mixer for 30-somethings.
But because I practice *flexible* boundaries – that does not mean my husband never gets to mingle. It does mean that we keep our groups a little smaller so I don’t get overwhelmed. It does mean we get to jet out early when I’m fading or exceptionally bored. It does mean that sometimes I suck it up because my husband desperately wants a certain event to happen and you know what? He deserves it.
Our goal is to both get what we want while respecting the other. And the only way we have reached that compromise is because we have blatantly talked about it for YEARS.
That’s right. Years. Boundaries are not set over night. They are set every single damn day. So get used to being direct. Specific. Consistent. Human relationships LOVE to go back to “normal” – meaning if you want something to change, you’re going to have to work at it every day by following those guidelines.
Boundaries can be as simple as “No,” “Ouch,” “I’ll pass,” or even “Stop.”
Setting healthy boundaries is not easy. I know. But the more practice you put into it, the easier it will get.
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Practice Makes Comfortable
Practice does not make perfect. So don’t get carried away here. But practicing setting healthy boundaries will lead to an increased comfort level with the whole sha-bang.
Being comfortable with healthy boundaries will also lead to comfort letting people who don’t respect those boundaries walk out that door. Because trust me when I say: the second you start enforcing healthy boundaries is the second you’ll start getting pushback from people who don’t want to adhere to them.
Receiving pushback from boundaries just means that the boundary was supposed to be set a long ass time ago. Pushback means the boundary is working and is necessary. The goal is for the pushback to diminish over time, because you’re being specific, direct, and consistent, but that’s not always the case. You’ll soon find that some might have only been attracted to your energy because you practiced loose boundaries, and the second you took those away, that person may take away their time and attention.
That’s okay. You’re better off.
Do not let those reactions stop you from practicing setting healthy boundaries. In fact, use those abrupt exits from your life as fuel to keep going. Those frayed relationships are exactly what boundaries are supposed to protect you from! The goal of setting healthy boundaries is to keep healthy relationships vibrant while weeding out the weak ones that don’t serve you. So once you see that motion in action, keep going, no matter how hurtful it may feel.
Now that you know how important setting healthy boundaries is – it’s time to put them into play. Consider working with a life coach to make sure you are setting healthy boundaries effectively – but also as a source of motivation. Transitioning into relationships with boundaries can be a bumpy road – so we are here to make the journey easier on you. Join Blush today to work with a professional life coach who is a master with boundaries!