Healthy Boundaries 101.

Boundaries are expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships. (Nedra Tawweb)

Boundaries are personal, context-specific, and can change over time.

Healthy boundaries are not just about saying no. We can also have boundaries that are too rigid - if we ALWAYS say no or avoid certain situations, or if we don't trust people in general. At the other extreme, if we tend to NEVER say no to people or situations, if we are overly apologetic and constantly feel guilty when we take care of our own needs, we probably have too permeable (porous) boundaries.

Unhealthy boundaries can lead to resentment, anger, frustration and burnout. They can exacerbate mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Instead of setting healthy boundaries, we sometimes avoid situations and people altogether, move away, gossip or complain.

But if we want to live a healthy life, we can't avoid setting healthy boundaries.

Choose discomfort over resentment. (Brené Brown).

American professor and author Brené Brown challenges herself and us to endure short-term discomfort rather than harbor resentment toward others or regret our choices and behaviors because of unhealthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries thus protect our personal dignity and relationships, including the one we have with ourselves!

According to New York Times bestselling author and therapist Nedra Tawwab, there are six types of boundaries: physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, material, and time boundaries.

In which of the areas mentioned above would you like to set boundaries and what might they look like for you personally?

Once you've identified your boundaries, the next step is to think about how you will communicate them to the outside world?

The healthiest way to communicate one's boundaries is to be assertive, to express one's needs and feelings clearly and directly, without attacking the other person. As opposed to all forms of ineffective communication such as passivity, aggressiveness, passive-aggressive behavior or manipulation.

We have been programmed from a very early age to feel guilty about expressing our needs. But we can learn to embrace these feelings of discomfort as part of the process of healthy boundaries and overcome our automatic reactions of not setting clear boundaries: For example, if you tend to say yes automatically, work on pausing first before reacting. Give yourself more time to evaluate the situation and figure out what you really want. You can think of a specific phrase beforehand that you can use to buy yourself more time to think, for example, "I can't make a decision right now. I will get back to you later today".

Knowing our boundaries and limits and communicating them to the outside world are necessary but not sufficient steps. We must also be prepared to honor, enforce and repeat them.

The people in our lives (including ourselves) expect us to behave the way we always have. Now, all of a sudden, we change the rules of the game. They might not take that seriously at first.

So the sometimes more difficult step is to draw a consequence when someone violates our newly set boundaries. If you don't respect your own boundaries by allowing others to violate them, they will continue to do so, and you will probably feel angry about that.

A gentler approach to respecting one's own boundaries and dealing with boundary violations in stressful situations is the process of Nonviolent Communication (for more information, see article Speak peace: how to communicate successfully.). The power of this approach lies in the non-judgmental, non-attacking assertiveness:

  1. Describe the situation objectively, without accusing or judging: If...
  2. Describe your feeling: ...I feel....
  3. Indicate which need has been violated: Because my need for... is not being met.
  4. Formulate a request: Would you be willing to...

In her book Boundary Boss, author and psychotherapist Terri Cole encourages us to stand up for our needs and formulates a catchy charter she calls the Boundary Bill of Rights:

  1. You have the right to say no (or yes) to others without feeling guilty.
  2. You have the right to make mistakes, to course correct, or change your mind.
  3. You have the right to negotiate for your preferences, desires, and needs.
  4. You have the right to express and honor all of your feelings if you so choose.
  5. You have the right to voice your opinion even if others disagree.
  6. You have the right to be treated with respect, consideration, and care.
  7. You have the right to determine who has the privilege of being in your life.
  8. You have the right to communicate your boundaries, limits, and deal-breakers.
  9. You have the right to prioritize your self-care without feeling selfish.
  10. You have the right to talk true, be seen, and live free.