It's hard enough to take care of ourselves in this modern world. But self-care within the context of relationships is more complex. I have some good news for you. You have a skill that can help you navigate this complexity. It may help build self-respect and the respect others have for you. It may help you avoid resentment, hard-to-handle emotions and provide structure in relationships.

The Art of Boundary Setting

Personal Boundaries are the unique rules and limits we establish for ourselves within relationships. Healthy boundaries allow a person to say "no" to other people when they want to but also allows them to be open to close relationships and intimacy.

Setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships is essential. To help describe their importance, let's use a sports metaphor. What we consider acceptable behavior in relationships is "within bounds"; the behaviors we find unacceptable are "out of bounds." Boundaries enable us to distinguish our needs, feelings, and desires from others. Boundaries communicate identity. Boundaries do not only refer to the behaviors we accept; they also reflect how open or closed we are to other people.

Boundaries could be either rigid, somewhat flexible, loose, or anywhere in between. If someone grew up in an abusive household or their family was devoid of boundaries - no privacy, no ability to speak up, no personal space - they may have developed inflexible or strict boundaries to protect themselves. However, being too closed off can lead to guardedness or defensiveness, lessening the connections you make with people. On the other hand, if we have nonexistent boundaries with no limits or secrets, we may feel drained and put the needs of others above our own.
Remember there are times when rigid and firm boundaries are appropriate and called for —abuse of any kind is entirely unacceptable. However, in other situations, some flexibility may be beneficial and healthy.

Girl in a jacket

Why is it difficult to set boundaries?

Some believe that love means "no boundaries" or having to sacrifice their needs for the needs of others, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Perhaps you grew up learning that being an "endless giver" is what being a good person, and friend, partner, mother, father, wife, and husband is all about. However, Self-care asserts that there is an absolute obligation to care about and prioritize yourself.

Setting boundaries may seem risky because it may feel like it may cause potential conflicts or anger. However, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries teaches others to respect you, leading to healthier relationships.

Things to Know About Boundaries

Your values and what's important to you are what should guide your boundaries. For example, if you value family time, then set boundaries regarding working late.

Your boundaries are uniquely yours, even though some of them may be similar to the boundaries of others. It's important to know and be aware of your boundaries because it will reduce the likelihood of being put in an uncomfortable situation or doing something you don't want to.

Examples of What to Say to Set Boundaries

Remember, you always possess the right to speak up and say "no." Expressing your views clearly and unambiguously leaves no room for doubt.

Things we can say:

"I am not comfortable doing this"
"I can't help you with that."
"It does not work for me."
"I don't want to do that."
"This is unacceptable for me."
"Not at this time."
"That is inappropriate."
"I'd like to help you, but right now is not a good time."
"thank you for thinking of me, but I can't make it to your event."

Things we can do:

Be respectful:

Treat others with respect and avoid putting other people down, yelling, or ignoring them. It's alright to be firm; however, you can respectfully relate your message.

Have confident body language:

Have appropriate eye contact, face the other person, and speak with a steady tone and moderate volume (not loud and not whispering).

Plan boundary-setting ahead of time:

If you're entering a challenging discussion, thinking about what you want to communicate and how you want to express it may help you feel more at ease and confident.

Healthy Compromise:

When it's appropriate, consider the needs of the other person. You are never obligated to compromise; however, healthy compromise is a part of a healthy relationship.

Dr. Carolina Raeburn, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in Miami who provides a warm and empathic approach to therapy. She helps people navigate through challenging times and set healthy boundaries.

*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Author's Bio: 

Sonu Negi is a is marketer and writer. Aside from writing on mental health, he loves snowboarding, eating sushi, and lifting heavy weights.