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Boundaries - The Power of “No”

“Daring to set boundaries is having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” - Brené Brown

Boundaries are the limits you set for yourself. While setting boundaries within relationships, and learning to say “no,” isn’t always easyit’s imperative for your self-care and well-being. Boundary setting is a way we can communicate our needs, desires and limitations to others. Someone with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they feel necessary, but is also comfortable opening up and expressing vulnerability.

There are three types of boundaries: rigid, porous and healthy boundaries. Someone with rigid boundaries may keep others at a distance, while someone with porous boundaries may get too involved with others.

Let’s look at some common traits of each type of boundaries:

Rigid - very few close relationships, unlikely to ask for help, often seems detached, keeps others at a distance to avoid rejection, avoids intimacy.

Porous - difficulty saying “no,” dependent on others’ opinions, accepting of disrespect, fears rejection if they don’t comply, overshares information about themselves.

Healthy - communicates personal needs and wants, accepting when others tell them “no,” values their own opinion, doesn’t compromise their values for others.

I want you to take some time to notice which category of boundary type you may fall into. Oftentimes, people have a mix of different types of boundaries, especially depending on who they are with and where they’re at. Think about it: the way you act around close friends or family members is probably not the same as how you act at work with your co-workers. It’s also important to mention that different cultures have different expectations regarding boundaries. In some cultures it may be encouraged to express yourself emotionally, while in others, emotional expression may be considered inappropriate.

Setting healthy boundaries can have many benefits, and is a vital component of self-care. In and of itself, setting boundaries helps people make decisions based on what is best for them; this autonomy is empowering for individuals and is an act of self care. Especially in work settings, preserving professional boundaries helps avoid burnout and allows individuals to stay in the profession for longer. If you’re able to find more fulfillment and less stress in your professional life, this leaves room for a happier personal life. Because maintaining healthy boundaries is an act of self-care, it also is an important part of taking care of your mental health. If you don’t set healthy boundaries in relationships, you may end up doing things you don't want to, that are emotionally and mentally draining. Having healthy boundaries in place can help you avoid feeling manipulated, violated, or mistreated by others.

So how can you work on setting healthy boundaries? First and foremost, be open with yourself about your own personal values and needs. Sometimes it may be difficult to identify what specific needs or limitations you may have, but one way to help you identify your needs is by journaling; asking yourself “what feels wrong?” in the moment or reflecting on what is bringing you down in certain relationships, can help determine what boundaries you need to set to protect your well-being. When you identify what boundaries are important to you, it’s necessary to be assertive in doing so. Saying “no” may sometimes feel harsh, but it’s important for others to know where you draw the line. Some people may not respect your boundaries immediately, and that’s why maintaining boundaries is so important to healthy relationships; it may take more clear communication to let others know that they’ve crossed a line. However, maintaining boundaries also requires an individual to set consequences that are followed through when those boundaries are violated. For example, if someone tells their family “I will not be discussing politics anymore with family,” following through with their consequence may look like leaving the room when a family member starts discussing politics at a family event. In general, setting healthy boundaries looks like: figuring out what your values and desires are, setting boundaries based on what those are, and then communicating clearly what those boundaries are to yourself and others.

Some individuals may find it more difficult to maintain their healthy boundaries. For example, if you grew up in a home without boundaries or where boundaries were violated, it may feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable; setting boundaries may make you feel selfish or guilty when doing so. These individuals may benefit from working with mental health professionals, like a therapist, to learn how to effectively establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Having clear boundaries isn’t selfish, and allows you to care for your mental health, which is essential to your overall well-being.

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