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How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Anyone

One of the most challenging things for most of us is boundaries.

For some of us, this is a challenge in every aspect of our lives, for others only in one aspect.

Often people say “I don’t know how to set boundaries!” and wonder what the right way to do it is.

Although how to do it correctly is an important question, it is not the most important when talking about boundaries.

The most important question is, “Why do I avoid setting boundaries?”

To answer this question people often use one of the following explanations:

“I don’t want to hurt him/her”

But you do anyway, when they sense your resentment, realize you were trying to avoid them, and feel hurt when you explode after suppressing your feelings for too long.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy”

If you are afraid to set boundaries with your children – or anyone else – lest they think you are a bad person, you confuse being firm and doing the right thing for them with being abusive, aggressive, critical, and humiliating.

“Good friends help each other”

Always? Even if it comes at your expense? Even if your help is “tainted” with reluctance and resentment?

“It won’t help anyway”

How do you know? Have you tried just that? Did you set real boundaries and enforce them?

“I already tried that and it didn’t work”

I’ve heard this explanation so many times but when I asked what exactly the person did, it was never setting boundaries, only threats or requests of various types and in various ways, such as screaming, whining, or trying to act calm.

“I know what he’ll say/do”

Amazing, are you a psychic? Good for you! But if not, you don’t know until you have tried.

“He is a sensitive child, he’s having a hard time anyway”

When you go easy on your kids, you’re teaching them to be more demanding, manipulative, and dramatic and not helping them build emotional resilience. Therefore, in the long run, it will be much more difficult for them to cope with life.

“I’m against punishing children”

Crossing a boundary is bound with a price. Saying a price is a punishment and thus wrong, is like saying it is wrong for someone who runs a red light to get a ticket.

“You didn’t meet my mother!!!”

This is true. But I met my mother and several other people who were very challenging. And if I learned how to set boundaries with them, you can learn how to do so with your mother.

“I can’t say no to my boss”

Your boss is not an army commander and you will not stand trial for telling them no. You may lose your job but if you look around you will find that employees who aren’t afraid to ask for what they want and set clear boundaries are respected and appreciated.

“If I make demands on others, I’ll be left on my own”

It’s not about making demands but about letting others know what you can live with and what you can’t. Some behaviors are better to ignore, but for others, you can’t push your feelings down without paying a price.

Additional reasons we avoid setting boundaries:

1. Unwillingness to pay the potential price – People will get mad at me, think I’m a bad/selfish person, my partner will leave, I’ll be fired from my job, my parents and friends will cut ties with me, and my child will stop loving me. (Yes, it can happen, but you’ll usually be respected, not turned away.)

2. Unwillingness to make an effort – When I give in to someone, I get a moment of relief (Although soon I’m going to pay big for it.)

3. The insistence that the other party understands how they “should” behave and consider my feelings and needs – a boss “should” behave like a boss, a parent “should” behave like a parent, and if the partner really loves me, they “should” understand me and be considerate.

But people aren’t always capable of what we expect of them, or they don’t think it’s their job, or they see things differently. Therefore, when we keep insisting on what they “should” do, we remain resentful and bitter while the key to change is in our hands – to set boundaries!

4. Lack of inner authority – Many in the modern age no longer trust themselves and do not listen to themselves. Even when their gut urges them to say, “Enough!” and “No more!” they doubt their judgment and prefer to listen to someone else’s judgment and advice.

What does it mean to set boundaries?

Setting boundaries is not… an argument, a discussion, or a negotiation and it doesn’t require the consent of the other party.

Setting boundaries is… a decision concerning myself (The attitude I allow from others, how people can use my possessions, etc.) or concerning my minor children. A decision that if not respected will have consequences.

What prices do we pay for not setting boundaries?

>> A bitterness that accumulates and simmers for years, leading to repeated reactions that seem blown out of proportion as each reaction is to everything we have suppressed, not just the event itself.

>> Damage to the relationship – If you have a problematic relationship, surely a lack of boundaries plays a big role in it.

>> The suppression of what bothers us manifests itself in impatience and resentment toward the person whom we allowed to cross our boundaries and eventually ends in a disproportionate reaction.

>> We work hard trying to convince others to agree with us and do what we say or we give up and take the burden on ourselves.

>> Children benefit from having things their way in the short term but pay a price in the long term, as they don’t practice delayed gratification, and become selfish, manipulative, and dramatic in their relentless pursuit of their desires.

“So how do I start?”

1. Define what the desired boundary is, for you or your child

For example: When your child is expected to shower, sleep, or brush their teeth or how much screen time they are allowed; the treatment you expect from your partner; the extent to which your mother can interfere in your affairs; or overtime at work and availability after working hours.

2. Communicate your decision with the other party

Remember, setting boundaries is not a discussion or negotiation but an announcement accompanied by a brief explanation. (Often the other person may have no interest in getting your point, no matter how hard you try to make yourself clear.)

3. Determine the price of crossing your boundary

For example:

  • The child will not be allowed to have screen time before finishing their duties.
  • You can tell your manager that unfortunately you can’t be available at certain times or that you can’t postpone some prior arrangements I made. (And stand by your words.)
  • If your partner speaks inappropriately, you may not respond at all, as if he or she said nothing or is not even there.
  • If your mother insists on talking about a topic you explained is off limits, don’t answer, and if she keeps pushing, end the conversation or remove yourself from the situation.
  • And your team members will be eligible for a raise or promotion only by achieving the agreed-upon goals.

(After an initial discussion, you can remind the other party of your decision once or twice when they don’t follow it.)

4. Stand firm by your decision

When setting boundaries we’ll always encounter resistance and manipulation, in adults and children alike.

People may demonstrate anger and sadness, negotiate the terms we’ve offered, ignore what we’ve said in the hope that we won’t insist on it, or try to make us feel mean and unfair.

Our task is to stick to our decision until they understand that we are serious (and from experience, this will happen much faster than you think).

Every time we give in to manipulation, people learn that our words shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Two more things are required for successful boundary setting:

1) The how – Setting boundaries should be done calmly and in a matter-of-fact tone (You can also be firm, but not aggressive).

If you over-explain yourself, talk apologetically, be aggressive, accusatory, or whiny, people will either dismiss you or shut down.

2) The what – To set the right boundaries for ourselves without being influenced by the opinions of others, we must learn to respect our feelings, thoughts, wishes, and needs without making fools of ourselves just because someone said, “I don’t understand what the problem is,” or, “I wouldn’t make a fuss about it if I were you.”

One last thing that may convince you it’s worth the effort – If you don’t set boundaries, instead of getting appreciation and respect for being so “good”, you will be taken advantage of, disparaged, or at the very least, taken for granted.

And since you don’t respect your boundaries, i.e., yourself, your sense of self-worth will also suffer.

So see where you’re failing to set boundaries or avoiding them altogether and at what cost, and use this guide to help you take the first step.

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