How To Set Healthy Boundaries

How To Set Healthy Boundaries
April 17, 2012 Leslie Juvin-Acker

Boundaries don't keep others out, they bring us closer together.

Boundary setting is a vital skill that can be applied to every area of our lives. Learn how to set healthy boundaries and see your relationships grow closer.

Setting healthy boundaries is just one of the core skills I regularly teach my coaching clients. Boundary setting isn’t about protecting ourselves from unwanted pain and social discomfort, it’s about teaching those around us how they can rely and trust in our consistent execution of our values. Healthy boundaries make relationships are more secure, reduce stress, and lead to improved communication.

You Are Responsible For Healthy Boundaries

It’s not unusual to hear people complain about the way others treat them. I’ve heard, “S/He treats me so wrong and it makes me so angry. They have no idea how upset it makes me!” When I ask the simple question, “Why don’t they have any idea?” I am greeted with a blank stare of “What do you mean?”

Most people are not intuitive enough to sense what makes you upset or when they overstep your boundaries. This is why it is your responsibility to set healthy boundaries. We can’t blame others for repeated offenses when they have no idea of what they are doing wrong. Take it upon yourself to set healthy boundaries and lead by example.

Get Over The Initial Fear

Boundary setting is quite simple in strategy, however I will admit it takes a bit of courage. Believe it or not, even my most active and motivated clients are intimidated by setting healthy boundaries. It’s important to get over the initial fear of “How will they react to my boundaries?”

I like to remind my clients that boundary setting isn’t something we do for ourselves, it’s a service we provide to others and an opportunity to improve relationships and help others.

Imagine a colleague who constantly tells in appropriate jokes at work. By respectfully asking your colleague to reconsider telling their jokes in your presence, you’re teaching them that you do not approve of that behavior and in effect, getting your colleague to wonder if you’re not the only one who finds their jokes distasteful. While we can’t control what people do beyond their interactions with us, you very well may have saved this person from future awkward situations or disciplinary action by setting a healthy boundary.

Identify What Is and Is Not Acceptable

Everyone knows right away what doesn’t work and we’re quick to rattle off lists of what behavior is not acceptable. The tough part is asking oneself, “What IS acceptable behavior?” How can we live together peacefully and so that both side feels they win? This is not always an easy task. Take the time to think carefully as to what is acceptable behavior and commit to it yourself so that you’re the good example.

For example, It is not acceptable to argue about money in public. It is acceptable to discuss before going out money issues or go into a private place to discuss financial concerns when an issue arises.

Identify Constructive Consequences

Identify constructive consequences to unacceptable behavior. This can include examples such as walking out to cool down for ten minutes and coming back, pause discussions that go too long or become too heated, changing the conversation at the arrival of inappropriate subjects, and disciplinary action.

Constructive consequences do not shut people out, do not make others feel guilty or unworthy, they do not put people in questionable situations or emotional states. Constructive consequences teach people that while their behavior is unacceptable, boundaries are not judgements against the person in general.

Communicate Consistently, Clearly and Respectfully

Communication is not just what we say, it’s also what we do. In addition to calmly and respectfully addressing inappropriate behavior, we must commit to consistently maintaining healthy boundaries. What good are boundaries if we, ourselves, do not respect and uphold them?

Discipline yourself to see past the person and into the behaviors. Don’t judge the person, focus on dealing with the behaviors. Consistent commitment to healthy boundaries is what creates security and regularity in relationships. When both sides know what to expect from each other, relationships feel better and safer.