In this article, I’ll share 5 tips on how to set clear boundaries in life, at work, or in relationships.
How to Set Clear Boundaries
How do we set effective boundaries for ourselves?
I’ve shared articles in the past about how boundaries can help us build better relationships. I’ve mentioned how boundaries are important in things like moving out of codependency.
In this article, I want to share how we set boundaries.
It may seem really obvious, but there are a lot of little nuances that we need to look at in order to be sure we’re setting and holding effective boundaries.
How to Know Your Limits
The first thing we need to know is how to set clear limits for ourselves. That’s really what boundaries are.
I always say, the river needs the riverbanks. So life itself, our projects, our activities, our creative expression, our work, everything has to flow through something, and that’s where the boundaries come in.
What kind of job are you willing and not willing to take?
What kind of partner are you willing and not willing to engage with?
What kinds of conversations do you want to participate in or not participate in?
How do you want to be spoken to?
How do you want to be treated?
What are you willing to do and not do in your life?
Those are the containers, like the river banks, through which our life can flow.
It doesn’t mean those boundaries can’t change over time. Our personal limits may change.
There was a time when I enjoyed going to carnivals with amusement park rides like roller coasters and thrill rides, and now I have zero interest in them.
My boundary has changed. My limit has narrowed in that area, but I’ve expanded limits in other areas, things I’m now willing to do that I would never have been willing to do before.
Noticing your own limits is very important in order to set boundaries.
Here’s where it gets a little bit tricky.
Sometimes we have to go ahead and try things without having boundaries. That can be a little bit scary because if we try something and find out later that it’s kind of dangerous, maybe we even get hurt emotionally, physically, mentally, etc., or we try something and we later feel like “God, why did I waste my time doing that,” it can feel very frustrating.
This is where many of us get tripped up because we aren’t willing to take the time to pause and determine what our limits are.
We don’t always have to experiment with things to determine our limits. We can simply know that certain things are not for us.
Perhaps we don’t feel right about it. It doesn’t align with us, and a gut feeling tells us, “No.” That’s absolutely valid. Just because one doesn’t always have experience with something doesn’t mean it’s not something they can still have a gut feeling about.
Similarly, it’s really important to ask yourself:
Am I calling that a gut feeling because I just don’t want to try something?
Am I being a little judgmental or setting a limit for myself that doesn’t allow me to step out of my comfort zone because I think I know the way it’ll be, but I don’t really know because I have no experience with it?
It’s a dance. If you’ve been reading my articles and watching my videos for a while, you know I am so much about helping us to find the middle way.
The middle way is about navigating extremes, dancing between the too little and the too much.
If you haven’t downloaded my balance and empowerment cards, that’s a great tool for you to learn to navigate these extremes and determine what the extremes are and in what areas you’re moving toward the too little or the too much for what you need in your life.
This idea of understanding, knowing, and setting our limits is the first step in setting effective boundaries.
Articulate Your Boundaries
The second tip we want to look at is articulating those boundaries.
Once we’ve gotten a sense of our limits, whether it’s through experience, our gut feeling, or simply noticing, paying attention, and engaging in what we’re comfortable with right now at this moment, then we must articulate them.
When I say articulate, I mean express what it is. Put your limits and boundaries into words, written or spoken.
Maybe you are wanting to be on a dating site. Maybe you are wanting to apply for a job. Maybe there’s an activity you’re considering doing or some kind of new group you’re thinking about joining. Take a moment to write down what you feel is and is not acceptable to you, the kinds of things you know are going to be your limit, your boundary.
Maybe you couldn’t date a vegan or you couldn’t date a carnivore. Maybe you don’t want a job that requires you to work with toxic chemicals, but you know that you absolutely must have a job where you get to talk to people and engage with others and be part of a team.
Whatever those things are, those become your boundaries. They become the limits of what you’re willing and not willing to accept.
By writing those down, you begin to form clear pictures of what your boundaries look like. Paying attention to your boundaries can be really helpful in determining what you want for yourself in your life.
Then, of course, we must be able to speak and express them. Maybe you start out by telling a friend, “If I go on this dating site, this is what I know I will or won’t accept in a potential partner before I decide to go on a date with someone.”
You can express it and be able to speak it because when you know you can articulate it through the written or spoken word, you know you’re getting close to having those clear boundaries.
How to Communicate Your Boundaries Clearly
It’s really important to remember to communicate what it is you will and will not do.
You must be able to stand within your boundaries, which only happens when they are also communicated.
By having clear limits, and a clear expression of them, you’re going to be able to communicate them when the need comes up.
I’m very clear that I don’t drink alcohol or use substances. I don’t even drink coffee.
It’s really easy for me if someone offers me a cup of coffee at their house or offers me a drink. I simply say “No, thank you.”
Sometimes you might have to repeat yourself. Sometimes you have people that say, “Oh, come on, just have a drink,” or “Oh, come on join me in a cup of coffee.”
“No, thank you, I’ll have tea.” The response can be that simple when you’re standing in the clarity of your boundaries.
You may have to repeat yourself. You may have to re-express because sometimes people feel the need to be joined in whatever their choice is for their own validation, but that’s not your responsibility.
When you have those clear boundaries, you’re able to simply say, “Yes please,” or “No, thank you,” and leave it at that. You don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t have to justify it. You don’t have to defend yourself.
You simply know and you communicate it. You know what you will and won’t accept.
“That’s not acceptable here,” works amazingly well with children.
I love the phrase “You may” for children, whether you want them to do something or not do something.
Let’s say they’re climbing up on the countertop.
“You may get down,” is a simple phrase, or “You may get up to the table,” when you want them to come to the table to have dinner; or “You may put away your toys.”
It’s a permissive thing as opposed to constantly saying, “You can’t do this,” or “Don’t do that,” or “You’re doing this wrong,” or fighting with them.
There’s an aspect of very clear boundaries that allows you to say, “This is acceptable, this is not,” and it’s a matter of fact you rarely get challenged on.
It’s so important to have awareness of your limits, be able to articulate them, and then communicate them.
Recognize When Your Boundaries are Crossed
Once you’ve become aware of your limits, articulated them, and communicated them, you also want to be able to recognize the boundaries.
This may seem kind of obvious.
“Well, if I’ve articulated and communicated, don’t I already recognize them?”
You’d be surprised how many of us don’t recognize when we’re crossing a boundary of our own that we’ve set for ourselves, or we’re letting someone else cross a boundary we’ve set.
We often get soft on ourselves. We say, “Uh, okay. Well, maybe just this time.”
If you are not clear on when you will and won’t adjust those boundaries, and you blindly let it happen, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
You need to recognize when you will and when you won’t compromise those boundaries.
Adjust Boundaries as Needed
Boundaries are not something that have to be absolutely fixed.
Even the river sometimes starts to carve out a slightly different path depending on what’s happening in the river. If the storm is raging, it’s going to carve out a wider path and sometimes the river starts drying up and it’s contracting a bit.
Life is the same.
You want to recognize where the boundaries are, when you’re willing to shift them, and when you’re not. Continue to reset them and reassess them over time in your life.
Boundaries will change with time so you want to recognize them.
Otherwise, you may find that people are taking advantage of you or you’re feeling frustrated and not seen, and that’s probably because you’re not holding firm to the boundaries or even seeing the ways in which you’re not doing that.
We also must be willing to adjust our boundaries as needed.
Maybe you’re single now and then you end up in a partnership, a relationship with someone. Your boundaries will change a little bit because you start to compromise. Your partner will likely adjust a little bit of their boundaries. You’ll both adjust your boundaries a bit, while hopefully staying true to and in alignment with your values.
Compromise is part of every relationship as long as we’re not compromising who we are or the non-negotiables around what is and isn’t okay with us.
What we think is non-negotiable now may totally change using the example I gave before. Maybe you don’t think you’d ever want to live with a vegan or ever want to live with a carnivore because you have some story in your head that says, “We have to eat every single meal together and eat the same thing.”
Yet in reality, the way you enjoy each other and you really have the most fun together is by doing activities and creative projects together, and not centered around meal time.
You don’t need to eat the same things. Maybe you can sit down and eat a meal together but they prepare their food, you prepare your food, and it’s perfectly acceptable. Your views around who you could live with or be in a relationship with may change.
We can change the way we see things and expand and contract our boundaries as needed.
I’ve offered some really powerful ways in which to make sure we set clear boundaries, honor the clear boundaries, communicate those clear boundaries, and adjust them over time.
If you have any questions about boundaries, I’d love to hear them.
If you have an example of a boundary you set that was crossed and you’re wondering, “How do I do better at setting clearer boundaries?” let me know.
Maybe you have a tool that you’ve used to set clear boundaries that has really helped you. If so, leave a note in the comments.
For a video version of 5 Tips for How to Set Clear Boundaries in Life, at Work, or in Relationship, watch here: