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by Margaret Fiero
In my last entry on how to set good boundaries, I explored different types of unhealthy boundaries. In this entry, I will explain how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Easier said than done, perhaps, but there are steps we can take to build firm but flexible boundaries.
Before beginning to build healthy boundaries, it is necessary to survey the ones we already have in place. Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- Do I feel used, drained, angry, resentful, violated, overworked?
- Do I do things for others without receiving enough in return?
- Would others around me refuse to allow themselves to be treated the way they treat me?
- Do I find myself getting in situations with others where I feel as though I have no control?
- If someone told me they were in a situation similar to my own, would I be concerned for that person?
If the answers to most of these questions are “yes,” your boundaries likely need work. Before we move on to the next step, congratulate yourself for being brave enough to examine yourself and how you interact with others. Now look at a situation coming up in your life where you’re worried that your boundaries might be crossed. As an example, say you have a close friend who is going through a major life transition. She needs a place to stay for an indefinite amount of time and she has thought of you. This friend often tests your boundaries. In such a situation, self-awareness and good communication are a must. Set your boundaries and let your friend know what they are up front.
In delicate emotional confrontations, you may sometimes need to negotiate, but do so assertively. Being assertive is different than being aggressive. Assertiveness entails being firm, honest, confident, specific, while also being willing to explore and create alternatives. You can be assertive and speak up for your rights, while also respecting the rights of others. Let your friend express her thoughts and feelings, as well as propose her own boundary. Be sure to ask for specifics and any necessary clarification from her. At this point, you will hopefully be able to work out an accommodation.
If you find yourself in the heat of the moment and unable to think clearly about what you want to communicate, you can always ask for a “time-out” or a moment to breath so you can gather your thoughts, and then return to the discussion, communicating the boundaries you need in a firm but respectful way. If it comes down to it, deliver an assertive “NO!” As a last resort, use the broken record technique: repeat yourself over and over until your message is received. Hopefully, you won’t find that necessary, but if you do, at least you’ll know it’s in the interest of keeping intact the boundaries you worked so hard to build for yourself.
PS – You may also find it useful to use this DBT handout to articulate your thoughts and communicate them to the person who is a potential frequent boundary crosser. Try this out with friends and co-workers!