How to build boundaries

Do you find yourself saying yes to requests to which you’d rather say no? Or end up doing things for others that you didn’t honestly want to do? Knowing how to build boundaries can be difficult – especially if you’re a people pleaser – but they’re essential for our wellbeing.

Whether it’s at work, home or out with friends, boundaries can come in many forms. Here we share a few simple tips for building – and sustaining – boundaries.

Easy ways to build your boundaries

Know your limits

Before you go about setting any boundaries, it’s important that you know exactly what yours are.

Not sure where to start? Taking a moment to journal and reflect on past experiences can be really beneficial. Draw upon moments where you felt your boundaries were crossed, and what you would have preferred to have happened.

It can also help to recognise what’s important to you. For example, you may wish to put a fitness class at the top of your priority list, and so you won’t want to take on any other plans that could jeopardise that.

Consider social issues that have meaning for you too, and notice other people’s language around these topics. Begin to recognise what you will and will not tolerate.

Start small

Once you’ve acknowledged where your boundaries lie, you can begin to put this into practice.

Start small with something that doesn’t feel too challenging. It could be something as simple as letting your family know you’re having 30 minutes to yourself to work on a project and to not disturb you.

Build on these small wins over time, gradually beginning to expand into situations that are more challenging. It’s important to remember that it takes time to learn a new skill – and that includes building boundaries.

Practice saying no

When was the last time you said ‘no’ to someone? Many of us are guilty of constantly agreeing to things, even when we don’t want to.

Along with saying ‘no’, it’s also important to remember that you don’t need to justify this answer. It’s perfectly fine to turn down invitations to watch a film, have a drink, or go somewhere without having to explain your reasoning for it.

Be assertive

Being assertive can sound terrifying, but it’s important if you want to build boundaries.

Often, it can feel easier to start this process with people who aren’t close to you. For example, if you receive the wrong order in a restaurant, being assertive would simply be asking the waiting staff to bring you what you ordered.

Remember that being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive. Be clear and direct with the other person, letting them know that a boundary has been crossed.

Take a breath

It’s easy to feel put on the spot when others around us make a request. It might be during a meeting with your colleagues, or while having drinks with friends.

In these situations, you can often find yourself wanting to answer quickly with a response that you know the other person will like. But is this what’s best for you?

Taking a moment to think about whether or not this is something you really want to do is an important way to build boundaries. Is this request something you have time for? Is it something that you feel comfortable or able to do?

In many scenarios, you may not feel you have enough time to think things through. The good news is that there are easy ways to get around this. Asking the person to elaborate on what they’re asking – even if you already understand – is an excellent way to buy yourself more thinking time, and may also make the other person understand that it’s not such a simple request.

Alternatively, tell the person you need time to think about it and will come back to them with an answer shortly. That way you can truly explore a course of action that you feel comfortable with.

Notice when others set boundaries

Building boundaries works both ways. If you have trouble building boundaries, notice how you respond to those set by others.

Oftentimes we can feel angry or upset if our loved ones enforce limits upon us, but we can actually turn to these individuals as examples.

Next time you notice your loved ones setting a boundary, appreciate the fact that they’ve been honest with you. It might not be comfortable for you to hear at the time, but will ultimately lead to you having a healthier relationship.

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