Principles of Purpose:  Set Boundaries

Tentatively titled Principles of Purpose: A Guide To Living Wisely, is an ongoing draft of a concept I might one day publish a book on. It’s essentially 30 Principles that I think are essential to living life wisely. Some are principles that I wished I had learned much earlier in life. Many are principles that I only learned in recovery in 2016-2017. Still other principles were ones I had applied off and on during my 56 years.

PrefaceIntroductionTrusting Your GutUse Good Judgement
ListenRegulate EmotionsSet Boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.

Brene Brown
The Business of Boundaries

Social boundaries are a set of rules followed by most people in a particular society. Without them, some people might start behaving poorly and chaos could ensue.

There are legal boundaries that dictate what is lawful behavior as well. Laws set boundaries in all aspects of our lives. Certainly a lawful society contributes to the greater good of the society they serve.

So why then, do we have such difficulty setting healthy boundaries for ourselves? Why do so many of us have difficulty sharing with others what is acceptable vs. unacceptable treatment; and, which actions, behaviors go too far?

As individuals living in a world overflowing with boundaries meant to protect us and to guide our behavior, how is it that we often fail to set our own?

What Are Healthy Boundaries?

Boundaries can be physical or emotional, and they can range from being loose to rigid, with healthy boundaries often falling somewhere in between. Learning to show compassion and kindness to yourself is crucial in setting healthy boundaries.

Poor Boundaries result in poor feelings.
Click To Enlarge

A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you”

(n.d.)

The absence of healthy boundaries may indicate that we don’t have a strong identity or are enmeshed with someone else. We all know someone who seems to be overshadowed by coworkers, a friend, a family member, or a loved one. At the center of it is a lack of individualism and probably a sense of low self-esteem.

If we do not feel we are important enough, then we are unlikely to be able to establish healthy boundaries. For these can help people define their individuality, and can help people indicate what they will and will not hold themselves responsible for.

Healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care. That’s because ““in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries lead to resentment, anger, and burnout” (Nelson, 2016). Some of us know all too well how exhausting it is to deal with a toxic person. Regardless of whether they are family, a colleague, or a romantic partner; constantly allowing your needs and happiness to take a back seat is self-defeating and unhealthy.

Examples of Healthy Boundaries

For many of us, self-care is intuitive. We know how to eat healthy and exercise. We know to go to bed at a certain hour to ensure we are well rested. However, when it comes to setting boundaries, many of us lack this essential self-care component.

Most of us would prefer to remain silent if someone has overstepped a boundarie, rather than to speak up an create the impression of strife.

Rather than fostering resentment, one can try to set and communicate their boundaries. Of course, boundaries can look very different when it comes to the many different settings we may find ourselves in.

But, we shouldn’t feel as though, in setting healthy boundaries, we have to be walking on eggshells. We only get one shot at life. Why let others dictate how we will get to lead it, get to enjoy it?

I am certainly going to install in my young daughter a strong voice. Self-advocacy, done adroitly, can make all the difference in her life. I don’t intend for her to be a doormat to emotional vampires and the like.

Here are 4 typical situations and examples of setting healthy boundaries for each.

ProfessionalRomanticTherapistParent-Child
asking a co-worker not to tell sexist jokesa new mother asking her partner to spend more time with their baby keeping personal and professional lives separatechild asking parents not to read their personal journal
How To Set Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries can be as simple as stating ‘no’ simply but firmly to something that you do not want to do. The key to setting healthy boundaries is not to feel the need to over explain. Everyone has the right to accept or decline certain situations and behaviors.

Of course, you do not want to be a hard ass about setting boundaries; it is important to avoid boundaries that are too rigid, or too porous (ones that are weakly established.)

Setting boundaries requires that you consider consequences. If you have to repeatedly ask that your mother not just pop-in whenever she wants, then you may have a boundary without a consequence. It is critical only to declare the consequences you are willing to follow through on.

DefineCommunicateStay SimpleSet Consequences
identify desired boundarysay what you needdon’t over explainsay why it’s important
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In general, the key to setting boundaries is first figuring out what you want from your various relationships, setting boundaries based on those desires, and then being clear with yourself and with other people about your boundaries.

Just keep the focus on yourself. Rather than saying “Don’t bother me after work”, stating “I need some time alone after work” shifts the focus to yourself. This helps minimize resentment.

Put some real honesty into how you perceive yourself and how you allow others to treat you. It is not always easy to advocate for ourselves if we don’t have the confidence in ourselves that demands we get our due respect.

But, you owe it to yourself to create the harmony you deserve; even if that means stepping on a few toes along the way.

You can download Guidelines For Setting Boundaries for free! It has several very good worksheets on boundaries for you, and also for setting boundaries with children.

It’s Your Life

Healthy boundaries help us to maintain rewarding relationships and experiences with other people. Being able to stand up for yourself when a behavior or action affects you negatively is your right.

We are all deserving of a life of contentment and respect. If we set healthy boundaries, and deliver the consequences when they are not met, we are bound to begin to reap the rewards of this critical area of self-care.

2 comments

  • This was a really useful read. I’ve learnt through therapy the importance of setting boundaries and am much better at it now than I used to be, but one really difficult thing is that in my culture, parents expect to have very few boundaries with their children so it’s hard for my parents to respect mine. Expressing the boundary in terms of myself and making the consequences clear are two really great tips, so thank you! Just had a question on the consequences point – is this the consequences that you will impose if they fail to respect your boundary, or more about the consequences on yourself and how it will have a negative impact on you if they fail to respect the boundary?

    • The consequences are for those who cannot abide by your boundaries. I see your point about culture. I would pose this: there is a huge difference between attempting to be inclusive vs. someone becoming intrusive. Regardless of culture, personal boundaries are what keep you well. If by intruding on those boundaries, whoever it may be, you are deprived of your right to peace and harmony, I daresay you have the one life to live as you wish. Finding the balance between inclusive vs. intrusive is key, for me anyway.

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