What Even Are Boundaries?

Boundaries. It’s a word that seems to be continuously thrown around these days, particularly circulating in the self-help and mental health realm, yet many still do not understand its exact meaning.

As complex as setting them may be, “boundaries are teaching people how to treat you” my mother simply explains. 

To cultivate healthy relationships, whether that be with friends, family, acquaintances, or even strangers, if you feel you’ve been mistreated, establishing boundaries is critical. Many people think it’s okay to ignore small infringements, however, that’s usually a slippery slope. Letting others know what is not okay with you at the onset, as well as becoming aware of what you can and cannot expect from those around you, prevents resentment and turmoil in a relationship, allowing for increased acceptance, appreciation, and connection.

But how does one establish healthy boundaries?

Oftentimes when we hear about boundaries, we think of the power of saying “no.” This is indeed a major foundational component of setting boundaries, as it involves loving yourself enough to have the courage to risk disappointing others for the sake of putting yourself and your needs first. 

“Setting boundaries is a way to preserve your energy for the things that really matter to you,”

Oprah Winfrey

Preserving your power is key to pursuing a peaceful life. The majority of the time, our sources of upset boil down to a boundary issue, as our lack of boundaries leaves us feeling disrespected, unheard, or used. 

Whether it’s a stranger cutting in line at the grocery store, a friend calling you too late at night, or your parents making plans for you without your knowledge, these are all boundary violations that need to be addressed. 

Those around us learn what we will and will not tolerate based on our interactions, and it is not a one-and-done situation. Boundary setting takes practice and is something that is done over time as we encounter new situations and become more self-assured.

Here are three boundary-setting strategies from vulnerability and shame expert, Brene Brown, Ph.D. that can guide you toward a more empowered and peaceful life.

  1. Make a mantra
    •  “People treat you how you let them” is a mantra that runs through my mind whenever I find myself debating as to whether I should address a situation that made me uncomfortable. Having a simple sentence to ground you in your truth can help guide your next steps to choose the hard right over the easy wrong.
  2. Keep a resentment journal
    •  Brene Brown suggests keeping a journal to mind dump our frustrations. This constructive outlet can help decipher the root of our problems and open our eyes to why we feel tired and resentful and where we need to set better boundaries.
  3. Rehearse
    • REHEARSE REHEARSE REHEARSE. This is key to effectively setting boundaries, especially if you are someone like me, who is not particularly a fan of confrontation and doesn’t like to disappoint others. I’ve had to practice saying “no” and go through practice confrontations in the mirror a few times in order to gain the confidence needed to address certain situations.

Like anything in life, practice is key to improvement. So don’t get too down on yourself if you find this to be a struggle at times because boundaries can be complex and challenging. But trust me, it’ll be worth a little discomfort to reap the benefits of stronger and deeper relationships.