If you’re consistently feeling resentful, guilty, or controlled in one of your primary relationships, you might need a little help with boundary setting. Boundaries define our role in relationships. They are based on our values, culture, upbringing, and attachment style.
Here’s the heart of the matter: setting boundaries requires action by you (and no one else). But it’s easier said than done! With practice, you can get better at setting boundaries and improving your most important relationships. Here are 7 steps for setting boundaries that have helped my clients in the past.
- Identify the problem you are having. What makes you want to set a boundary?
“My parent calls me every day and it’s driving me nuts.”
- Define why this is a problem. How does this problem make you feel?
“I feel guilty, because sometimes I don’t feel like talking.”
“I feel controlled, like my parent wants to have a say in my daily activities.”
- Decide what you want. Make it a clear behaviour that someone could notice.
“I want my parent to call less frequently.”
- Flip the script. This is the most important step! Assign responsibility for change to yourself.
“I want my parent to call less frequently.” “I will answer my parent’s calls less frequently.”
When you flip the script, you take responsibility for yourself, not for anyone else. This is the essence of boundaries – they are all about you.
- Do it. Set the boundary as soon as possible but try to ‘strike when the iron is COLD’ – not in a time of high emotions.
- Soothe yourself. Setting a new boundary can feel a bit ‘icky’ at first; sensations like hot flushes, stomach ache or muscle tension are common, and totally normal. Fortunately, the discomfort will lessen with practice, and you can also take steps to soothe yourself in the moment. If you notice these sensations while thinking about or discussing boundaries, take a moment to refocus your breathing. Stop what you’re doing. Inhale slowly, 2, 3, 4, 5. Exhale slowly, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Repeat this a few times, or until you feel more relaxed.
- Practice. It takes time and practice to feel really comfortable setting boundaries. It won’t be perfect right away, and that’s OK. Start small, be gentle with yourself, and reward yourself every time you put in effort to make things better for yourself.
It takes courage to make changes to improve our key relationships. These 7 steps are built on the successes of past clients, and I am confident that they can be a helpful starting point for you. However, if you are feeling stuck and would like to talk more about setting boundaries in your own relationships, feel free to reach out to discuss private sessions with me, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love helping clients to build stronger boundaries and ultimately have more fulfilling relationships!