We teach people how to treat us, and we do that with boundaries. When we set boundaries, we communicate what works for us and what doesn’t. We communicate what is OK and what isn’t. We communicate what we want and what we don’t.
Boundaries protect us. They shield our hearts, and they raise our voices.
Which is all well and good, but if you’re new-ish to boundary setting, you might not know where to start. You might be wondering, What boundaries do I set? What limits are actually necessary? What makes a good boundary?
The first place to start is with curiosity. Because it really depends on you. Start by making daily observations about your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You can even record these observations in a notebook (for a week or two). In fact, this is a great way to spot patterns over time.
For instance, think about the following questions as you go about your day, which will give you insights into the boundaries you need to set to honor your limits and your mental health:
Do you find yourself saying yes to people when you really want to say no? Do you feel resentful after you tell someone you can honor their request? Are you feeling over-worked? If so, why? How often do you use your phone throughout a single day? Do you carry it with you—everywhere from the bathroom to bed? Do you have time to do the things you want to do? Do you feel heard in your relationships? Do you feel like your needs are being met? What are your needs? What energizes you? What’s depleting you? Are you getting enough sleep and rest? Do you feel satisfied overall? How did that interaction make you feel? Do you feel good being around that person?
After you have your responses, identify the boundaries you need to set, and with whom (some of these boundaries might be with yourself). Write those down, too. Make them as simple, specific, and direct as possible.
I can’t talk in the evening over the phone because I’m having dinner with my family. But I’d be happy to talk to you tomorrow at 3 p.m.
I will keep my phone in a drawer after 6 p.m. every night.
Unfortunately, I can’t help you move this weekend.
I’m available from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
I won’t be able to volunteer for the field trip this time.
I’m taking a personal day, so I won’t be able to make that party.
I’m not sure. I’ll need to look over my schedule.
I will be in bed by 10:30 p.m.
Then practice saying your new boundaries aloud. This might feel weird or silly, but practice anyway. Because the more you state each boundary out loud, the more comfortable you become with it. You can even practice with a close friend.
Setting boundaries might not feel good to you at first. Every part of your body might be screaming, “noooooo,” and “this is wayyy toooo uncomfortable.” Because it’s so much easier to say yes in the moment. It’s so much easier to silence ourselves in that single moment.
But it’s so much harder after that moment. It’s so much harder when you lose time or sleep or energy. It’s so much harder when your values aren’t prioritized and your needs go unmet. It’s so much harder when you feel depleted and drained and disappointed.
So honor your mental health. Advocate for it. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Start by setting one small boundary a day or a week. Remind yourself that boundaries are important. Remind yourself that it’s totally OK for setting them to be difficult. Remind yourself that it’s a process, and a skill, and it’s a skill you can learn and master. Remind yourself that you deserve to set boundaries, too.