Even in the most fulfilling and intimate relationships, setting boundaries is essential to mental health. Through setting boundaries in our personal and professional lives, we validate our feelings and needs and set standards for how we would like to be treated.
Relationships with a lack of boundaries are sometimes labeled as “codependent” and can lead to one person feeling responsible for another’s emotions or remaining in a situation that is unhealthy for one or both parties.
Henry Cloud, author of the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life says that boundaries actually create a sense of freedom, instead of restriction.
Cloud says that “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options.”
So how does a person identify and set healthy boundaries in relationships? Here are three tips from experts in the field.
- Tune into your body. Notice how you physically react to a person or situation. If you agree to something but feel tense, unsettled, nervous or foggy, you may need to turn that “yes” into a “no” and set a boundary.
- Be direct. When setting a boundary, be as clear and specific as you can about the line you are drawing. Leaving room for ambiguity or misinterpretation may feel more pleasant in the short term but could create opportunity for someone to manipulate or violate your boundary in the future.
- Be ready for repercussions. It is said that those who react most strongly to your boundaries are those who benefited from your lack of boundaries. If you are setting a new boundary with someone—especially if it is the first time setting one with them—you may face backlash in the form of sadness, anger, criticism, coldness or gossip.
Setting healthy boundaries in relationships is a skill that has to be developed. If you are new to speaking your “no” in personal or professional relationships, start small. By voicing your boundaries consistently, you will empower yourself to create more space for yourself in the future.