Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
“I encourage people to remember that “No” is a complete sentence.” ~ Gavin de Becker
1. Identify current boundary crossers
The first step in setting healthy boundaries is identifying who it is that is the boundary crosser. How does this person make you feel? Most likely, telling this person how you feel will get you nowhere. They may even get satisfaction from hearing your plea. Remember, it is not uncommon for boundary crossers to be very purposeful in their boundary-crossing behavior. This means they often know that they are doing it! If you feel taken advantage of, oppressed or bullied, it is important to make the conscious decision to change how you are interacting with them. Keep in mind, none of this will happen overnight. But, it definitely won’t happen unless you decide with the utmost conviction that something needs to change.
2. Consider how your past influences your present
Were you taught to set healthy boundaries? If you are like many, you were never taught this fundamental rule of survival. Were you raised by oppressive or controlling parents? Were you bullied as a child? If you were, it is no surprise that you are struggling to set healthy boundaries with strangers, friends, co-workers or family members. Deep down in the depths of your unconscious, there might be a sense of familiarity with being controlled, oppressed or bullied. Maybe you are used to it and even developed coping strategies to help tolerate this behavior. If setting healthy boundaries seems impossible to you then most likely it is because it is something very new and different. We can easily get complacent with how things are, especially when we feel like nothing we can do will make any difference. Don’t let your past hold you hostage just because you learned to tolerate it. You have waited long enough. It is time to stand up for yourself!
3. Prepare to be challenged by the boundary crossers
Prepare yourself to be confronted by the boundary crossers and their insecurities. People who ignore boundaries often do so to feel powerful at the expense of others. When you begin to assert yourself you will notice an obvious backlash. Know that they are just throwing a tantrum because you no longer make them feel powerful, assertive and significant. Keep in mind, boundary crossers are insecure at their core and need others to feel powerful. Every time you choose not to assert yourself, you are feeding the insatiable appetite of their deepest insecurities. Let the boundary crossers starve!
4. Be clear and direct
Most people avoid being clear and direct because they are afraid it will result in something bad. Being clear and direct takes practice. Work on asserting yourself a little bit every day. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You have a right just like anyone else to stand up for yourself and to be heard. Stop letting your fear of the unknown (how others will react) keep you from expressing yourself. Life is too short to bite your tongue all the time.
5. Start small
The best way to practice setting boundaries is to start small. Start with someone other than the person who irritates you most. This will help you avoid any misfires in your attempt to be more assertive. Let the people you trust know that you are starting to work on setting healthier boundaries with others too. You might even inspire them to reflect on how they have been setting boundaries with others.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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