7 steps to setting healthy boundaries

boundaries limiting beliefs relationships self-care Oct 03, 2018
flowers with a fence behind them

Setting healthy boundaries is an essential part of creating a life in which you can thrive as an introvert.  Exactly how difficult you find this process will vary depending on your personality, upbringing and past experiences, but most people struggle at least to some extent with setting healthy boundaries.  If you're someone who struggles with setting healthy boundaries then I hope these 7 steps empower you to think and act differently in the future when it comes to setting healthy boundaries.

And, if you've found your way straight to this blog post, then I should also say that this blog post follows on from a previous one about the difference between boundaries and barriers and I would strongly encourage you to go read that earlier post first if you haven't already.


Step 1: Recognise how your boundaries have been crossed

The first few steps to setting healthy boundaries are all to do with self-awareness.  Taking the time to put these solid foundations in place means that your efforts in the later stages are far more likely to be successful.

So the first step to setting healthy boundaries is to get really clear about exactly what behaviour the other person is demonstrating that you find problematic.  What precisely do they do that you object to?

This is also the stage at which to get clear as to whether the other person's behaviour is actually problematic.  When working with sensitive introverts I find that it is more likely that we allow others to get away with too much because we're not sure if we're being unreasonable, but it can also sometimes happen that we are being the unreasonable ones.  If you find yourself in any doubt as to whether the other person's behaviour is truly unreasonable then it can be helpful to check in with another person who you trust.  It can also be helpful to remember that setting a healthy boundary should make you feel safer to the people around you because they will know where they stand with you.


Step 2: Acknowledge your emotions

It is just as important that you take the time to get clear about exactly how this behaviour makes you feel.  Sometimes we can get so caught up in thinking about the other person's problematic behaviour that we forget to pay attention to our own emotions.  But if we are to respond effectively to the situation, then we need to take the time to acknowledge and take responsibility for the emotions that we are bringing to the table.  So don't be tempted to skip this step!

Depending on the strength of the emotions that we are experiencing, it is quite likely that we may need to give ourselves permission to just feel the emotion for a while before moving on to the next step.


Step 3: Challenge your beliefs that are enabling this boundary violation

When someone crosses one of our boundaries, there can be a temptation to get self-righteously angry about the other person's behaviour.  But if this is a situation where we find that we are struggling to maintain a boundary, then there will almost always be some kind of belief that we hold and which means that we are allowing our boundary to be ignored.

So this step is all about identifying which beliefs are holding us back from setting a boundary in this situation and then identifying a new replacement belief that will support you in setting healthy boundaries.

So, for example, if your original belief is 'I can never say 'no' to other people' then you may want to change this belief to 'I have a right to prioritise my own needs and this may include saying 'no' to others.'  Or, if your belief is 'they won't love me if I maintain this boundary' then you may wish to change this belief to something like 'setting healthy boundaries is an essential aspect of healthy relationships.'

The exact reframes necessary will depend on your unique situation.  But in order to find the strength to successfully complete the later stages of setting healthy boundaries, it is essential that you do the work now of understanding what limiting beliefs are coming up for you and identifying new beliefs that you will find more empowering.


Step 4: Identify how you need to set your boundary

This is the stage where you get clear about exactly what you need to say to the other person.  We're still not yet ready to actually have the conversation, this stage is simply about deciding what needs to be said.

One of the most important things to decide at this stage is what an appropriate consequence would be if the other person continues to violate your boundaries.  You see, setting healthy boundaries isn't about controlling other people's behaviour - it's simply about you taking action to protect yourself.  The other person may choose to respect your boundary in the future or they may not - you have not control over this.  You can only control how you choose to respond to either siutation.

When choosing an appropriate consequence, it is important that it be proportional to the boundary violation and that it be something you are fully prepared to enforce if necessary.

For example, if a friend keeps calling you late at night or during the work day, then you might ask them to only call you between certain hours and say that in the future if they call you outside these hours you will not answer the phone.

But, if the problem is someone who is continually criticising you or putting you down, then you may wish to say that you will not tolerate being spoken to that way and if they do it again you will end the conversation immediately (if the problem is particularly chronic, then you may wish to end the relationship entirely but that would then make it a barrier rather than a boundary).

When trying to decide exactly what needs to be said when setting this boundary, it is possible that you may realise that you are not actually ready to have this conversation at all.  And it's completely ok if this is what happens - you need to set boundaries at the time and pace that is right for you.  The work that you have done thus far will still be valuable even if you choose to go no further.  But when you are ready to have the boundary setting conversation, I would recommend that you start again at step 1 as your thoughts and emotions surrounding the situation may change with time.


Step 5: Get grounded

We're now nearly at the point where you need to talk to the other person, but because you're probably nervous about the conversation I highly recommend that you spend some time getting grounded first.  Medittion or breath work can be very helpful for calming nerves, but you may also find it helpful to talk the situation through with a friend who is entirely outside the situation.  Do whatever you need to do to suport yourself to have the emotional resilience necessary for this conversation.


Step 6: State your boundary

Now we've finally reached the stage where you communicate your boundary to the other person!  You may feel uncomfortable having this conversation, but try to state your boundary calmly, firmly, respectfully and in as few words as possible.

Remember, your behaviour in this conversation must match the boundary you are setting.  You cannot successfully set a healthy boundary if you send mixed messages by apologising or if you get angry and violate the other person's boundaries in any way.

Sometimes people are genuinely unaware that they have overstepped your boundaries, and, although they probably feel uncomfortable during the conversation, they may be grateful to you for raising your concern.  Some people may be completely unaccustomed to having people set boundaries with them and they may get upset or attempt to justify their behaviour.

People who are used to controlling others are the most likely to get angry or to test your boundaries.  If this happens, it is especially important that you remain firm in you boundary and do not get sucked into the drama of attempting to justify it.


Step 7: Take care of yourself

It is possible that setting this boundary may have been emotionally exhausting or it may have brought up feelings of guilt for you.  If this is the case then do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  Get into nature, meet up with a friend, pamper yourself - give yourself what you need.

Try not to dwell on exactly what happened during the conversation and remind yourself that you have a right to take care of yourself.  Setting boundaries takes practice and courage and maybe this first attempt didn't go perfectly but congratulate yourself for attempting it anyway.

Let's keep in touch!

Join the mailing list to receive regular updates from Alice.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.