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Why you need to set boundaries

Why you need to set boundaries
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Healthy boundaries are crucial to our mental health, and most of us know we should set them. The tricky part: learning how to say no without worrying we’ll lose friends or anger family.

That fear is understandable, but it’s essential for your health and well-being to set boundaries with others, says psychologist, Carrie Landin.

Learning how to set boundaries is a form of self-care.

“Without boundaries, you can feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or imposed upon,” says psychologist, Holly Schiff. “You are prioritising your own comfort over the comfort of others, and that’s OK to do!”

Types of boundaries

Types of boundaries
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Boundaries are the framework for acceptable behaviour and the way you communicate that to others.

Effective boundaries reflect your personal values and priorities, evolve over time, and establish context for how a person will respond if someone else crosses the line, says social worker, Arianna Galligher.

There are six basic types of boundaries:

Material: these determine what (if anything) you are willing to give or share with someone else.

Physical: these protect your personal space and privacy.

Mental: these establish your right to have your own thoughts, values, beliefs, and opinions, even if they don’t align with someone else’s belief system.

Emotional: your emotions belong to you, and other people’s emotions belong to them. You are only responsible for your own emotions.

Sexual: these protect your right to choose your comfort level with sexual activity.

Spiritual: these allow you to determine your own relationship with God or a higher power.

Boundaries benefit both parties

Boundaries benefit both parties
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Assumptions and inferences are the opposite of boundaries.

While they may feel easier in the moment – “Eh, they’ll figure it out eventually”– this type of unclear communication often leads to more pain, confusion and contention in the long run.

“Boundaries should be a normal part of what you do in every relationship,” Landin says. “When you fuse your needs, emotions and responsibilities with those of others, you create stress for yourself and you take away the other person’s right to have their space and experience separate from yours.”

Read on for some useful tips on how to get along with work colleagues.

Scripts to set boundaries for every occasion

Scripts to set boundaries for every occasion
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Not sure exactly what to say? Our experts share some simple scripts for establishing your boundaries in a clear and caring way. People pleasers, take note.

Check out these magic phrases that can save an awkward conversation.

Validate their feelings + boundary

Validate their feelings + boundary
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Boundaries don’t require an explanation, but if you’re establishing them for someone with whom you have a close relationship, like an intimate partner, it can help that person better understand where you’re coming from.

One way to do this is to validate the feelings behind the request they are making.

Example

“I hear that you are feeling disconnected and you want to spend more time together. I love you, and I want that too! I can’t do it tonight because I have a meeting, but what about Saturday?”

Gratitude + boundary

Gratitude + boundary
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Thanking people, even if you aren’t feeling particularly grateful, is a quick way to defuse a situation. It helps others feel heard and validated without committing you to doing what they ask.

This type of boundary-setting is great for strangers in public, or for people with whom you only have a passing relationship, like a neighbour.

Example

“Thank you for your concern about my child’s behaviour. I’ll take it from here.”

Discover the power of gratitude here.

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Safety rule + boundary

Safety rule + boundary
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Some boundaries are non-negotiable because they involve protecting yourself or someone else.

A firm “no” is just fine in this case, but if you want to be clearer, you can expand on the safety issue without giving personal or sensitive information.

Example

“That question is too personal. I don’t share those kinds of details with people I don’t know very well.”

Sympathy + boundary

Sympathy + boundary
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Emotional boundaries can be some of the most difficult to enforce, particularly within close relationships.

You can be sympathetic or empathetic to someone’s plight, however, without taking on their problems as your own or trying to fix them.

Example

“Wow, I can really see what a difficult experience this has been for you and how painful it’s been. I don’t have any advice for you, but I am here to listen and support you.”

Here are some things you should never say at a funeral.

Restatement + boundary

Restatement + boundary

Setting boundaries can sometimes feel like you’re being dismissive of other people’s needs. To avoid that, and to help them feel heard, you can restate what they are asking and then state your boundary. “You can care about a person and also say, ‘No, I can’t do that right now,’” Landin says.

Example

“So you’d like me to help you clean and organise the garage? I’m exhausted from work today and don’t have the energy for such a big project now. Can we plan a time tomorrow to work on it together?”

Say nothing

Say nothing
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“Sometimes we don’t have to say anything out loud to set a boundary,” Landin says. “You can set parameters for certain types of interactions or communications without explaining them.” This is particularly helpful if you’re worried the other person may argue with you.

Example

Decide you will return texts within 12 hours, not necessarily immediately, or that you will not accept phone calls during work hours. You can also decide to avoid discussing a certain topic, like politics, with a particular person.

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