“Setting boundaries” and “having healthy boundaries” are such ubiquitous buzz words of today that they may have begun to lose meaning. However, this concept is as relevant as ever, and many of the clients that we see continue to struggle with how and when to set interpersonal boundaries.
To begin with the basics, boundaries are limitations that we set with the people in our lives. We are continually setting boundaries with everyone that we come into contact with–including romantic partners, friends, co-workers, bosses, relatives, and strangers. Boundaries are established both verbally and nonverbally, consciously and subconsciously.
Boundaries can encompass physical space/touch, verbal communication, time, money, or other resources. When we are setting a boundary, we are exerting our needs, desires, and limitations. A boundary is the invisible line that differentiates the advances or actions that are acceptable to us from the ones that are not. For example, when you inform your boss that you are unable to work an extra overtime shift, you are setting a verbal time boundary, and when you turn away from your partner and cross your arms you are setting a nonverbal physical boundary.
Sometimes, however, the boundaries that we set are not respected. In the examples provided above, you boss may still demand that you work the requested hours, and your partner may continue in his or her attempt to interact despite your desire to be left alone. When this happens, it may mean that you are not being direct and assertive enough when setting your boundaries. Here are a few tips on how to effectively assert your boundaries:
- Be specific when setting your boundaries, clearly stating exactly what you are asking for (e.g. If addressing a coworker who invades your personal space, “Please do not touch my shoulder when we are talking”).
- Be consistent and firm, repeating your requests as necessary (“It makes me uncomfortable when you touch my shoulder; please do not do that again”).
- Enforce consequences if your boundaries continue to be crossed (“I am going to report this to the HR department if you are unable to respect my request”).
If your boundaries are still not being respected, you may need to consider reevaluating your relationships with the people in your life. To learn more about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, reach out to one of our licensed counselors by booking an appointment below:
Written by Joanna Aslanian, LPC, ATR-P