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Mental wellness isn’t only about how you understand and care for your mind and emotions. It’s also about how you interact with the people and world around you. Healthy boundaries are crucial in establishing those relationships between yourself and others, so take the time to prioritize setting and understanding boundaries.

What Are “Boundaries”?

When we talk about boundaries, we’re referring to the “stop signs” in your life. These lines protect your physical and mental space from others. There are four broad categories of boundaries:

  • Physical boundaries include your “personal space” and how you feel comfortable interacting physically with others in all settings. A physical boundary violation could be as small as family members requiring hugs at gatherings or as big as ongoing abuse.
  • Emotional boundaries include your personal feelings and details about your life. Emotional boundary violations include sharing sensitive information without permission or belittling someone for their feelings.
  • Mental boundaries are your opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. Violations here include ignoring someone’s beliefs or discounting their opinion.
  • Time boundaries are your guidelines for how you use and spend your time. Too many demands on your time from others can violate this boundary.

Why Are Boundaries Important?

We generally learn boundaries in childhood. Adults who grew up in a home with clear (but flexible) boundaries are often best equipped to set their boundaries in life. Setting boundaries for yourself and for your family are critical to developing a strong sense of self-worth and feeling comfortable being an individual while also having strong relationships. As an adult, clear boundaries can help you avoid burnout, feel less resentful of others, and maintain balance in your life. If you’re struggling with these ideas, setting clearer boundaries might be the key.

Create Your Own Boundaries

Setting boundaries is an essential part of life and relationships. It’s imperative that you spend time purposefully thinking about your own boundaries. Get comfortable with this part of yourself. These steps will help you start setting boundaries or adjust to those you already have.

  • Know your limits by honestly asking yourself what you can handle and feel comfortable with. Setting boundaries requires a good deal of self-reflection, so don’t skip this step. If you’re having trouble, try thinking of situations that definitively felt wrong and see if you can work backward to a limit that feels more appropriate.
  • Take responsibility for the things you can control, including saying “yes” or “no” to people and projects. It can be challenging to acknowledge your role in situations, but accepting where your power and control lie is crucial for setting strong boundaries.
  • Create your individual identity and worth that’s separate from those around you, including family and friends. Don’t let your values be tied up with anyone else’s reactions or needs. Rather, feel confident being yourself and asserting boundaries that help protect who you are.
  • Be clear when you state your boundaries. If it sounds confusing in your head, it’s probably confusing to others, too! Being more explicit is better when you’re just getting started with boundary exploration. As you become more comfortable, add in some flexibility.
  • Keep it simple at the beginning. Think of a few more minor boundaries that will give you immediate results. An excellent place to start is by making a boundary that requires you to pause before answering someone’s request. Never give an immediate answer! You’ve built yourself time to consider, and the other person will typically respect the fact that you need 24 hours before responding.
  • Practice stating your boundaries so that you don’t fumble over the words when you’re feeling stressed in the moment. Write notecards or talk to yourself in the mirror until you feel confident asserting your needs.

How to Respect Others’ Boundaries

Setting your boundaries is only one-half of the equation. You also need to learn how to recognize and appreciate someone else’s!

  • Respect is the key ingredient here. Set the tone of every interaction as “respectful,” and you’ll likely notice and comply with any boundaries. Treat the other person as if you appreciate their individuality and choices.
  • Listening is the best tool for recognizing and respecting boundaries. When you give someone else a chance to speak, you’re learning about their needs and letting them dictate their own experience. Don’t operate as if you know best.
  • Body language is a strong indicator of a crossed boundary. You’ll know when someone feels uncomfortable by looking at their posture, arm position, and proximity. Did you cross your arms while standing back? Something you’ve done has probably threatened a boundary.
  • Ask questions instead of guessing or assuming. If you aren’t sure whether something violates a boundary, ask! It’s better to feel slightly uncomfortable bringing it up than to inadvertently cause disrespect and harm.

Creating and respecting boundaries isn’t a process that happens overnight. Get started today and take control of your mental wellbeing!