Setting boundaries has always been a difficult subject to broach with therapists and patients alike. Most people have and can maintain firm boundaries with co-workers, strangers, and acquaintances. However, those same firm lines evaporate or develop holes when dealing with bosses, friends, or loved ones.
The sociopolitical flash points that the coronavirus pandemic created only made setting those boundaries more difficult. It also made the ability to set those boundaries more crucial to your physical and mental wellness than ever.
If someone you know struggles with setting boundaries at work or in their home, show them this guide. It may offer them some insight into what they can do to draw lines in the sand.
Why Setting Boundaries Is Important
To better understand how to set boundaries, you must first understand why boundaries are important to your mental health. Boundaries establish the limits of what you are willing to do for yourself and others. If you don’t learn to set them at work and home, you’ll be dealing with stress from their burdens and yours combined.
It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to people-please or the need to avoid angering others. However, if in the process, you lose track of what you’re willing and able to do, people can and will take advantage of your kindness.
First, Identify and Define Your Personal Needs
The first step to setting boundaries to protect your mental health is to identify and understand your personal needs. You need to realize what situations are making you uncomfortable or triggering a depressive episode. Without first acknowledging where your lines and needs are, you can’t set a firm boundary when you need to.
This is the moment to dig deep and ask yourself the tough questions. Are you accepting more tasks than you can feasibly handle? Are you taking on other people’s mental burdens that you have no business bearing? If so, these may be signs that you need to set firmer boundaries.
Start Small and Offer Alternatives
Figuring out how to set boundaries with friends and family is difficult, and can get fraught in a hurry. Your best friend who treats everything like a crisis won’t take your first “no” in stride if you don’t offer an alternative.
For example, if said friend thinks it would be a tragedy if you don’t bring them lunch while they’re not feeling well, you could suggest that they order DoorDash. Or, suggest that they ask one of your other friends for help instead. This setting of a “soft boundary” will tell you how this person will react to a firmer boundary down the road.
Be Direct and Simple in Your Wording
When setting boundaries for yourself, remember not to JADE yourself in the process. Couples counselors across the country use this acronym when helping married couples improve their communication. It will serve you well as you set your boundaries.
JADE stands for justify, argue, defend, or explain. When you set your boundary, don’t attempt to justify its reason for existing or defend it. Don’t take time to explain it or pre-empt arguments against it. While you can choose how assertive to be, this isn’t the place to preface with softening language. State what you need, as simply as possible.
Reinforce Boundaries With “I” Statements
When you first set boundaries for your mental wellness, you can expect some resistance. For example, if someone calls on you any time they run into the slightest problem, you don’t have to rebuff them in blunt terms.
Rather than saying something like, “Stop treating me like your personal therapist”, you can opt for gentler “I” statements. For example, “I feel like you don’t respect my emotional and mental health needs when you unburden yourself on me because I never get the chance to speak of my problems. What I need is for us to share our problems mutually, not for me to bear them all alone.”
The above is far from a perfect example. Nonetheless, it’s a starting template for other similar boundary reinforcements.
Consistency Is Key
Once a boundary gets set in place, consistency is key to maintaining it. You can’t expect people to read your mind when a boundary has been crossed, so be sure to communicate with them when it happens.
In addition, when it comes to boundaries, if you give an inch, someone will take a mile before you know it. Don’t let those boundaries bend, even for close loved ones.
Know Your Absolute Limits and Have an Out
Everyone has “hard lines” and “soft lines” in their boundaries. Some lines, they are willing to cross on rate occasions or for the right reason. Others should never get crossed for any reason. As part of setting boundaries with your work and loved ones, make sure that you know your absolute “no”s, the lines that you will never cross for any reason.
If someone tries to force you to cross those boundaries or force themselves across them, make sure you have a way out. For example, if the boundary is your family acting emotionally abusive, have your car or a friend at the ready to make your escape.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries and maintaining them can be difficult, especially when emotions and tensions run high. Don’t hesitate to reach out for the support of those willing to reinforce your boundaries. Whether that’s your therapist, a trusted co-worker, or a close friend, let them offer you the support you need in keeping your boundaries maintained.
Setting boundaries is critical for maintaining a sense of mental wellness. Be firm, direct, sincere, and consistent in your boundaries once you’ve set them. Reach out for help from others if you need an escape from those who don’t respect your boundaries or help with reinforcing them. By doing this, you can improve your stress levels and mental health immensely.
If you or someone you love in the New Mexico area need help in this area or with any other mental health condition, this practice is here to support you. Reach out today, and see how you can improve your mental wellness.