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Defining Boundaries

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others." ~ Brene Brown

Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. One of her most recent revelations is about the importance of setting boundaries and why doing so can be incredibly difficult. We want people to like us, and we assume that setting boundaries will upset others and push them away. In reality, setting boundaries enables us to be more compassionate, empathetic, and present with others. Setting boundaries isn't always easy, but it begins with knowing your own limits, and being comfortable saying no.

Boundaries can be physical, material, mental, or emotional. To be in any type of healthy relationship, we need to be happy on our own. Boundaries strengthen relationships by enabling communication and reducing resentment.

A few weeks ago, a man asked me on a date. He is a lovely person, but the thought of going out with him was exhausting, so I said no. I gave no explanation and refused to feel guilty for disappointing him because what I needed at that time was space for myself. Women especially feel guilty for disappointing others, setting boundaries, or saying no, not because we are intrinsically polite, but because we are taught to put aside our own needs to prioritize the needs of others. Ignoring your own needs and refusing to set boundaries will hurt no one but yourself.

I saw a novelty t-shirt at an airport recently that said, "No is a complete sentence," and a powerful one at that. If someone asks you for something-whether it's a favor, a monetary loan, your time, or your talents-and doing so will compromise your own health or happiness, you can say no. In fact, you should say no. On the flip side, you also need to accept "no" from other people, and establishing your own boundaries will help you accept the boundaries of others.

Psychologist and coach Dana Gionta, Ph.D. says having healthy boundaries is as simple as, “Knowing and understanding what your limits are." She identified a few simple steps to establish personal boundaries that are worth considering, adopting, or adapting.

1. Tune into your feelings and learn your limits.

Consider what you can tolerate or what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Resent is a huge red flag that your boundaries are being crossed, "resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated. It's a sign we're pushing ourselves beyond our own limits because we feel guilty, or someone else is imposing their expectations, views, or values on us," Gionta says. Feeling uncomfortable or resentful is a sure sign that your boundaries are being crossed.

2. Be Direct and Assertive

Sometimes you will need to be explicit in establishing and maintaining your boundaries, especially with people who may not understand them. It is not your job to explain why you need a particular boundary, but you do need to make your boundaries known. Personally, I've learned to become incredibly direct. Like I said earlier, no is a complete sentence.

3. Give Yourself Permission

Giving yourself permission requires a healthy dose of self-awareness and a radical amount of self-love. When you set boundaries, you may fear another person's response, you might feel guilty, and you might doubt your decision. It's easy for women especially to feel as if we need to say yes to everything, but if someone expects you to always say yes, they are *probably* a toxic person. Creating boundaries is a form of self-respect and essential to healthy relationships, so give yourself permission to do some introspection and prioritize yourself.

4. Consider Your Past and Present.

Your childhood, family dynamics, and social circles will all influence how you go about setting and preserving boundaries. Women routinely find ourselves in care-taking roles, which can be a beautiful thing. But often, we focus too much on others and become emotionally or physically drained. I gave an enormous amount of energy to a past relationship because I thought that was how relationships worked. I sacrificed my own wants and needs for that of another person, which he then took advantage of. This dynamic was reinforced by people around us who believed that relationships are built upon compromise, when in fact, relationships are built upon mutual respect. Un-learning dynamics you witnessed or were taught may be an essential step in building healthy boundaries.

5. Make Self-Care a Priority

Every therapist I've ever seen has emphasized the importance of self-care. Why? Because prioritizing yourself will teach you to recognize and honor your needs. When your own needs are taken care of, you have the energy, peace of mind, and capacity to be more present with others. You will be a better worker, a better mentor, a better partner, and a better friend. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think you need to spend money to prioritize self-care. In the U.S. alone, the self-help industry is worth a cool $9.9 billion dollars (books, blogs, tv shows, seminars, retreats, apps, coaches, et cetera). Find free self-care ideas HERE, HERE, and HERE.

P.S. Watch this short video from Brene Brown about the importance of establishing boundaries:


Sarah Rose

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