Learning how to set boundaries isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. In fact, I’ve thought to myself many times, how amazing would it be that instead of focusing only on algebra and english literature, we actually had a class on how to set boundaries?
While that would be incredible, it’s not something most of us are taught. Instead, society often conditions us to put others' needs before our own.
Do you find yourself constantly reacting to what others do? Feel like you’re more in tune with others' wants than your own? Consider yourself a people pleaser?
If you answered YES to any of the above questions, it’s very possible that you need to practice how to set boundaries. If the idea of enforcing boundaries with those around you makes you feel all kinds of ick, do not fear.
I’ve had clients who came to me feeling anxious and uncomfortable around boundaries, to absolutely LOVING them! I’ve also had others who didn’t KNOW they were struggling with boundaries, but together through our coaching we uncovered it was something that they needed to work on.
After coaching, my clients see more and more areas where setting clear boundaries can help them achieve the results they desire. One of my clients sent me an email the other day saying “it’s like boundaries are popping up everywhere!”
So whether you’re a total newbie when it comes to boundaries or they even make you feel a bit squeamish, boundary setting is a skill you can absolutely learn. Consider this post your guide!
What Are Boundaries?
Let’s start off with the basics - what exactly ARE boundaries?
If you’re into personal development, have done any coaching or therapy, or even just follow self-growth accounts on Instagram, you’ll probably have noticed there’s a LOT of talk and hype around boundaries.
Oftentimes, it even seems there’s a misconception that setting boundaries is simply learning how to say “NO”. Although this might be one method of how to set a boundary, it's not quite that simple.
I have my own different definition of a boundary that I want to share with you.
Boundaries are when we respond to others and the world around us truly aligned with who we are and the results that we want to achieve.
This is my definition that I've developed over time, and is what I practice in my life and teach in my coaching program.
Another definition of boundaries I love is by Dr. Nicole LePera, also known as The Holistic Psychologist on Instagram. She states:
Boundaries are our own personal limits, they allow us to have space between us, and another, and are the foundation of healthy relationships.
It’s SO important to learn what our personal limits are, and then based on those personal limits, go ahead and set boundaries with others around us. Dr. LePera also mentions that healthy people demonstrate self love and self worth by compassionately and objectively speaking their boundaries.
What are some different types of boundaries you can set?
We can categorize boundaries into a few different groups: physical and material boundaries, emotional boundaries, and resource boundaries.
Physical and material boundaries are our physical limits and personal space boundaries. These are the boundaries we set in relation to our belongings and the material objects in our life. In this category, boundary violations are quite easy to spot. For example, if somebody enters your physical space without permission, or somebody takes something that belongs to you, they will have violated your boundary.
Emotional boundaries concern how you feel, who you engage with, and the parts of yourself that you open up to share with others. This is the boundary category that most of us struggle with. To showcase emotional boundaries, I thought I’d share the story about something I coached my client on recently.
I believe that when we turn 30, boundary work is even MORE important because people start to have opinions about our lives, and often feel entitled to express said opinions. We may begin to hear these opinions and start having certain reactions to them.
Let’s discuss the example about my client. My client came to me with a problem - she has a close friend who very often oversteps. She says things to my client that make her feel uncomfortable. For example, she would make comments such as, Why aren't you dating? Are you not ready to meet somebody? Or she'll say things along the lines of, Why are you happy with your life like this? Do you not want things to look differently for you? My client found her friend constantly chiming in about her emotional wellbeing, sharing lots of opinions and input.
While everyone has a right to their own opinion, my client desperately wanted to be able to tell her she was overstepping the boundary of their friendship. She wanted to tell her she didn’t appreciate her comments, but she felt afraid to create conflict in the relationship.
Through our coaching work, my client built up the courage to set this boundary with her friend.
She bravely thanked her friend for her input, but let her know honestly that she needed some space from the friendship at that moment. This was my client respecting her emotional boundary, and respecting her physical space boundary, as she expressed she needed physical space and emotional space from her friend.
This story perfectly illustrated how to set boundaries to have healthier relationships. My client setting this boundary was definitely a benefit to the friendship, as she needed that space to resolve things so they could move forward. If she had simply continued on as is without setting a boundary, and kept on taking in these comments, it’s a recipe for built up resentment, and ultimately could have led to a falling out.
The last type of boundary is a resource boundary. This is how you decide to split your time and energy, and boundaries that concern those resources. The most prominent example that comes to mind, is a work life balance boundary. This is often the boundary that requires the most willpower to set. A boundary violation in this respect might be someone at work, such as a boss, demanding your time, when you don't want to give that time.
Why are boundaries important?
In order to talk about the importance of boundaries, we have to talk about what happens when we don't set boundaries. When we constantly say yes to other people, what we're really doing is repeatedly saying no to ourselves.
You might think you can do both, that you can respond in a way that feels good for yourself AND respond in a way that pleases other people. But the truth is, it's rarely the same thing.
By constantly acting in a way that serves others, we end up denying our inner wants and needs. We start to live our lives for other people instead of for ourselves. And by repeating this pattern, slowly over time, we begin to forget who we truly are.
Our lives become inauthentic, and we start to live a version of ourselves based on what other people think of us. Or, in reality, a life based on our perception of what other people think of us.
I say our perception, because at the end of the day, we truly never know what anybody thinks of us.
By basing our lives according to what we THINK others think about us, we become a phony version of ourselves. We fall out of line with who we are and what we really want.
Boundaries are important because they are an act of self care. Living a life in alignment with what you truly want IS you caring for and loving yourself.
And believe it or not, setting boundaries is actually an act of self care and self love for others around us. When we act in alignment with our true selves, we help others to live in the limits of their own boundaries. We set an example of what it's like to live our truth, and help others live their truth too.
Why are boundaries SO hard to set?
Boundaries are difficult to set, because especially as women, we’re taught to say yes to others. We’re conditioned to be maternal and to focus on helping others.
For many of us, we never had parents who modeled healthy boundary-setting at home. For many in our late 20s and early 30s, this is actually the first time we’re doing this work around boundaries. And it isn’t easy!
Maybe in the past, our own boundaries have been overlooked or ignored. Perhaps we've even tried to set them, but we haven’t been able to.
Much of the fear around boundaries comes from the anxiety around “hurting someone’s feelings”. This comes from the belief that we’re responsible for other people’s feelings (hint hint: we’re not! Be sure to check out my post on Emotional Adulthood to unpack that.).
We avoid setting boundaries because we believe we will insult or hurt people. And that if someone is displeased with us due to us setting a boundary, it’s surely OUR fault. The truth of the matter is, we are only truly responsible for ourselves.
When you don't have experience setting boundaries, it's completely normal to feel nervous, guilty, afraid, or confused about how to start setting them.
But trust me - boundary setting is a skill that can be LEARNED.
I hear time and time again “I'm just a people pleaser” or “I just suck at boundaries”. People label themselves and act like their personality is fixed.
I always tell clients - this is not something you were born with. This isn't a personality trait that you’re stuck with - you can 100% learn how to set a boundary.
How? By practicing it!
For many people, the notion of setting boundaries is completely daunting, because they have an underlying limiting belief that setting boundaries equals conflict.
None of us enjoy conflict. Our human brains will do ANYTHING to avoid it.
But here’s the truth: boundaries do not equal conflict. If we practice them the right way, they can actually serve as the opposite. It IS possible to set boundaries in a loving way that helps ourselves AND others.
Practical tips on how to set boundaries
Finally, here are some practical tips to set boundaries. These four steps will help you become a boundary pro in no time.
Step 1: Inquire
The first step is to ask yourself, what does setting boundaries mean to you?
Write a list of all the beliefs that you currently have about boundaries. Do they feel difficult? Do they bring up resistance?
Answer this on a scale of one to ten - ten being completely comfortable with setting a boundary and one being, “never want to set a boundary ever”.
Take this number and then ask yourself, do you want to change? Do you want to learn to set boundaries?
Because if you do, it's totally possible.
Step 2: Awareness
The second step is awareness. How are you responding to people? How are you spending your time? Do a time journal and see. Are you spending your time the way you truly want to spend it? Or are you spending it in line with how others want you to spend it?
Step 3: Worthiness
This is the step where you decide that you are an individual who is worthy of setting boundaries. Remind yourself that you deserve to live an authentic life on your own terms.
Step 4: Embrace the Discomfort
For all the reasons outlined above, setting boundaries, especially when you've never done it before, can feel super uncomfortable. That's okay! Embrace this discomfort and the fact that it's a muscle that needs to be flexed. Remember: practice makes perfect.
Step 5: Dive Deeper
The fifth step revolves around a three-step method I have developed, which is a feedback loop of how you can go out and practice boundary setting, and do it in a way that is conducive and feels good (even if uncomfortable!)
In my new group program “The Next Chapter: Reclaim Your 30's” that is launching this month, I dedicate one week of the program to teaching boundaries, diving into my three-step method and supporting you in learning how best to set boundaries.
To sign up to the waitlist to be the first to hear when I launch, send your email to me by clicking here.
If you're ready to live a life that feels more like YOU, to embrace a more authentic version of yourself, then setting boundaries is the best place to start.