I have since learned that if you want someone to respect you and treat you well, you have to be able to set boundaries. Just because someone wants or expects you to do something or be a certain way, that doesn’t mean you have to do it - and you need to be able to make it clear to people that’s not okay, and you can do that in a positive way.
In this article I’ll share 10 of the strategies that I’ve found to be important, and helpful when it comes to setting and maintaining boundaries.
How to Master Boundaries
- Know what you want
It’s impossible to set good boundaries if you don’t know what’s important to you. Knowing what you want and knowing your values are critical. A good place to start is by knowing what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Those feelings help you identify what your limits are.
For instance, if being on time is particularly important to you and you notice that you feel resentful if someone is habitually late or wastes your time, then you’ll want to think of what boundaries you can set with those who tend to waste your time.
As an example, this is something that’s important to me, so whenever I facilitate an event, I always let people know that I will start and end on time - out of respect for their time and mine. If someone arrives late, that’s not a problem, but I will not hold everything up to wait.
- Take responsibility for yourself
So often we expect others, particularly those who are closest to us, to know what we need. You may be very intuitive and have a good sense of what others need, but don’t expect others to reciprocate and know what’s important to you and to know what you need.
If you assume people know and it should be obvious to them, you will frequently be disappointed. They don’t know, so it’s up to you to tell them. I have found that people appreciate this because they don’t want to have to guess and feel your frustration or resentment if they get it wrong.
- Pay attention to how you feel
Your feelings are messages and can tell you when something is happening that is not acceptable to you. When a boundary is crossed, you feel discomfort and resentment.
Ask yourself what it is about what’s happening that’s bothering you. Resentment, for example, usually comes from feeling that you’re being taken advantage of or not appreciated. Or perhaps someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values onto you.
Once you identify how you feel and what’s causing it, then you can ask yourself what you’d like to see happen instead. What would have to change in order for you to feel better?
- Respect yourself
If you are feeling disrespected or unappreciated by others, you must look to see whether you are respecting and appreciating yourself.
Other people will not respect you until you respect yourself. Setting boundaries is a sign that you do respect yourself and others will treat you more respectfully too.
People tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves, and the way we teach them. If you habitually let someone take advantage of you or mistreat you, they will continue to do so - until you decide that you respect yourself enough to not allow it anymore.
- Be firm and direct
Once you’ve decided what’s important to you and what boundary you want to set, you must let people know about it. You don’t have to be aggressive about it, you can state it simply in a clear and assertive way.
People are often afraid of how people will react when they begin to set boundaries, and it is possible that some people will not be happy about it at first, particularly if they are used to you always doing whatever they want.
You cannot control how someone will respond, just know that you are not responsible for how someone reacts, you just have to do what is right for you.
- Give yourself permission
It’s okay for you to want what you want. It’s okay for you to ask for other people to respect that.
You may find it difficult to set boundaries because you’re afraid of the other person’s response, you’re afraid of upsetting them or how they’ll react. All you can do is deliver your message in a positive way. You cannot control how someone else will respond.
You can start with small things, and you’ll find that the more you do it, the easier it gets. Sometimes it’s all about giving yourself permission to start.
- Learn to say ‘no’
If you are a people-pleaser, you will often put yourself at a disadvantage by trying to accommodate everyone. You don't want to be selfish, so you put your personal needs on the back burner and agree to do things that may not be beneficial to your well-being.
Keep in mind that you are not helping anyone, least of all yourself, by trying to please others at your own expense.
I used to be afraid to say no to people, but when I started to do it, and realized that I could do it in a positive but firm way, such as by saying something like: “that doesn’t work for me,” or “I have other commitments right now,” I was surprised at how little reaction there was. People just say “ok,” and that is that.
You don’t need to explain or justify why you’re saying no - you just have to learn how to say it (and mean it). I know that whenever I have said ‘no’ to someone and then I let them talk me into doing it anyway I have always ended up regretting it.
- Trust yourself
You are the only authority on you. You know yourself best. Only you know what you need, want, and value. Don't let anyone else make those decisions for you.
Healthy boundaries make it possible for you to trust and respect your strengths, abilities and individuality as well as those of others.
Often other people may want to tell you how you should feel, what you should think or do, and you have the opportunity to let them control you or not. When you defer to what others think you should do, rather than trusting yourself you lose yourself and give your power away.
Pay attention to how you feel, and to what feels right for you and learn to trust that.
- Make self-care a priority
Putting yourself first gives you more energy, peace of mind and a more positive outlook, so that you can be more present with others and be there for them. Self-care is something that not only benefits you, it benefits everybody around you and so it will improve your relationships.
When you make self-care a priority, setting boundaries becomes much easier. You’ll want to do it because it feels like the best and right thing to do.
- Get the support you need
Setting boundaries takes courage, and practice and you will benefit from allowing yourself to receive support.
When you’re having a difficult time, don’t be afraid to talk it through with somebody who will understand and offer support. Somebody else may have been through a similar situation and may have some good advice.
The steps outlined in this article will help you set boundaries so that you value yourself more and as a result you’ll have more positive experiences and relationships.
Make a commitment to take the steps you need to set and keep personal boundaries.