A colleague delegates yet another project to you, despite the fact that you’ve stayed late at work every night this week and it’s not really your job to handle this type of assignment. Your husband or wife commits to a party you don’t really want to attend on your behalf. You just let your friends talk you into happy hour, even though you just want to go home and watch TV.
Establishing clear personal boundaries is essential for maintaining our health and sanity. For many people, it can be difficult to say “no,” even when we really, really don’t want to do the task in question. But we feel guilty and worry what others will think, so we agree time after time.
Why is it important to create personal boundaries, and what happens when we don’t? How do we set boundaries to prevent others from taking advantage of us?
So, how do you establish clear boundaries? Here are some tips to get started.
1. Determine where you’ve already established personal boundaries and where they’re lacking.
You may have strongly established boundaries at work but not in your personal life or vice versa. Consider where your boundaries could use some honing, and focus on these areas. Assess strategies you use in different spheres of your life and think about how you could apply them to other areas.
2. Know your limits.
Boundaries can be murky. Think about times when you felt like enough was enough. What pushed you over the edge? When did you feel angry or like someone was taking advantage of you? Your limit is before that breaking point — before you started to lose your cool. It can also help you understand your limits if you write them down or say them out loud.
3. Learn how to say “no.”
It’s okay to say “no” sometimes. In fact, many people should use the word more often. If you’re at your limit, don’t take on that extra project or agree to an excursion you don’t want or don’t have time to do. The more often you say “no,” the less people will expect you to comply.
4. Practice being assertive.
For people-pleasers, saying exactly what you want can be intimidating. However, being assertive is an important skill to have in work and in life. For example, if a coworker is asking you to take on work that’s not within your role, say so, rather than agreeing because you don’t want to rock the boat.
5. Establish consequences.
When someone violates your personal boundaries, it’s important that they know what you will do if it happens again. These might be natural consequences; for example, if a demanding manager keeps piling on the work, you might need to tell her that you won’t be able to finish a previous project on time if you have to tackle the next assignment, too.
6. Respect yourself.
It’s easy to feel guilty when establishing boundaries, but know that doing so is a sign of self-respect. If you don’t respect yourself enough to set limits, then others will take advantage of you and you’ll grow to resent them. Instead, frequently remind yourself that your boundaries are healthy and necessary.
Establishing personal boundaries communicates that you are self-aware and recognize your own limits. They prevent others from taking advantage of you.
Without setting personal boundaries, you may become irritable and resentful because you’re internalizing your feelings and not communicating your needs clearly to others. This can take a toll on your physical and psychological health. For instance, if you haven’t established boundaries regarding how much work you can take on, you may feel overworked, stressed, and tired. If a partner expects you to participate in events that make you uncomfortable, you’ll probably become increasingly annoyed with him or her as well as anxious yourself, which will inevitably impact the relationship.
Establishing personal boundaries can impact your mood and outlook, decreasing stress and feelings of resentfulness, as well as make you more self-aware and confident.
What are some signs you may have unhealthy boundaries? Here are a few indicators.
• You agree whenever someone asks something of you.
• You often feel like people are taking advantage of you.
• You frequently feel stressed and tired because you’ve overcommitted.
• You want to please everyone at all times.
• You feel angry with others but let it fester rather than addressing the issue.
• You let others dictate what you should be doing, saying and feeling.
• You care more about what other people think that what you really want or need.
• Every time you say “no” you feel guilty. Or you’re just never able to say “no” at all.
• You agree to do things that make you uncomfortable.
Just like in your professional life, establishing boundaries in your personal life is essential for maintaining positive relationships. (Remember: relationships don’t have to be romantic. You should be creating personal boundaries with relatives and friends, as well as romantic partners.)
You should make a conscious effort to create healthy boundaries in all your relationships. For example, you may want to make it clear to a partner that you need a certain amount of alone time to recharge after work. Perhaps you need your parents to know that you don’t want them stopping by unannounced. Whatever your personal needs are, you should be clearly articulating them to the other person to prevent either of you from expecting too much or feeling hurt or resentful.
This is true even if you have a strong relationship and believe that you don’t need boundaries because you get along so well. Everyone needs boundaries to feel comfortable and secure.
Boundaries are important for all aspects of our lives — from work to your personal life. Ultimately, establishing boundaries with others will decrease your stress and allow you to lead a happier and more fulfilled life.
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