We aren’t naturally born with healthy boundaries, and if you have ever been the parent of a newborn baby, you would probably agree – sleepless nights, constantly being on call; never feeling like you can leave the house. However, on the contrary, if you are the parent of a toddler or teen who is constantly using the word no, you may disagree and think otherwise. Setting healthy boundaries does not begin and end with our children. It is a forever lifestyle that impacts every area of our lives and is vital to our emotional health and well-being.
[bctt tweet=”Healthy boundaries produce freedom and are something that everyone needs to practice regularly.” username=”tiffthomps”]
In my opinion, healthy boundaries produce freedom and are something that everyone needs to practice on a regular basis, but before setting boundaries, you must first learn and decide for yourself what you want your boundaries to look like. What you have experienced in your past, where you find yourself in your present, and your hopes and dreams for your future will determine what boundaries you need to set in place for yourself. Below, you will find a list of boundaries that have been extremely helpful for me. Upon setting only a few of these boundaries, I saw immediate changes in myself and in those around me, and I felt more in control of my life.
1. Learn the word NO, and stick with it. I know it may be hard to believe, but learning how to say no actually allows me to say YES. When I practice saying no then I find that I am able to pick and choose what fills my time – not allowing others to fill my time for me. I quickly realized that learning to say no allows opportunities for me to say yes to the things I love: spending one-on-one time with my husband and kids, a weekend with my family with no outside interruptions, taking walks; yes to writing, podcasting, meditating, etc. Learning to say no is extremely vital to setting boundaries, and in my opinion, the most important boundary that I set for myself.
2. Honor your first commitment, even if something better comes along. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have committed to someone; then another and even better opportunity comes along. In these situations, I may be tempted to change or rearrange my plans to benefit the better opportunity; however, when I do this, I am showing that I do not know how to say no, are not mature in my emotions, and, more devastatingly, I am sending a message to the original person that they are not as important as the latest opportunity. These actions are not honoring in any way, and my word is no longer truth. Setting healthy boundaries allows us to be trustworthy and honest with the people around us; we expect this in others. We have had times where someone has canceled at the last minute because a better opportunity has come along, and we remember how that made us feel. Obviously, there are times when this may not be viable, and some examples of those times would be: a true emergency arises or you are the caregiver for someone who is suddenly sick or hurt. You will know when those exclusive times arise, and if you have a habit of honoring your first commitment, others will actually believe you when it does happen.
3. Stop answering your phone. Along with constantly interrupting phone calls, this boundary also includes texting, email, social media, etc… We are a homeschooling family, and I have been known to get endless phone calls during the day because people know we are home. This has lead me to set quiet hours on my phone, and I won’t answer unless the call is from my husband. My voicemail even says “if you are calling between the hours of ___ and ___, we are currently homeschooling, and I will call you back at my next available moment…” I make sure that I always remember to call them back. I want my word to be true and trustworthy. When I finally talk to them, I have been known to politely say, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to answer when you called. We were in the middle of [homeschooling].” Sometimes it takes a while, but eventually, they learn and catch on to the boundary that I have set and may even learn to call at a different time.
4. Stop Triangulating. Triangulating is when someone talks to you about someone else and tries to persuade you to feel and see a situation as they see it. Triangulating always hurts everyone involved. Whenever someone begins to pull me into a conversation or situation where someone is being treated dishonorably, I stop the conversation immediately, and if the person being talked about is not present, I literally ask the speaker, “Have you spoken with [him/her] about this? This sounds like a conversation that you need to have with [him/her], not me.” This did begin with intimidation, but with practice and discipline, I soon felt confident enough and got the hang of it. I have noticed that others are no longer as fast to pull me into those conversations as well, so if there’s a particular person that came to mind when you read this, don’t worry. They will catch on and will probably stop trying to pull you into those nasty webs.
5. Take control of your feelings, and know that you are not responsible for someone else’s feelings or reactions. This may not sound like a boundary, but it really is. When we set boundaries, we are taking control of our own lives. Being in control of ourselves means being in control of how we react to our emotions. Emotions are not bad; God created every emotion that we have, but how we respond to our emotions is important. Even if we are in emotional control, we can’t expect the people around us to be, so, when someone is hurt or disappointed by healthy boundaries that I have set for myself, I know that I am not in charge of their emotional reaction to my boundary. I am only in charge of my response, and even though they may try to make me feel like it’s my fault that they feel a certain way, it’s not. At that point, we need to step back and allow them to deal with their own emotions and feelings.
6. Allow others to live with the consequences of their decisions. As if the previous boundaries weren’t already challenging enough, there’s this one; however, this one could be one of the most freeing boundaries. Constantly bailing others out or trying to fix their situation is not healthy for anyone involved. There will be times when someone close to us makes a bad decision, and we will want to step in and make the consequences go away for them. We need to remember that we are not accountable for someone else’s decisions, and it is not our responsibility to suffer the consequences for them. When there are those around you, who are constantly making bad decisions and expecting you to bail them out, don’t do it. Let them learn from those mistakes and live with the consequences of their decisions – even if it’s for only a short while. If you’re used to always bailing others out, and you don’t know where to start, start with the small, everyday stuff. I wrote about this in my life article about kids and consequences. The consequence that my son suffered from his missing towel was a small, non-harming consequence, but it was a foundational consequence; it set him up for learning to deal with larger consequences in the future. Developing a generation of good-decision makers, based on possible outcomes and consequences, is vital for society and our future. By-the-way… he hasn’t left his wet towel on the floor since. #win
7. Take time for yourself. A couple summers ago, I had an awesome opportunity to go on a girl’s beach trip. This trip was with two of my favorite friends for well over 20 years. When I was on this trip, I experienced something that I didn’t expect. For the first day-or-so, I was unable to let loose and have fun. My mind was constantly on my husband and kids. I admit that I felt guilty that I was sitting on the beach without them because I knew that they would love being there too. I confessed my feelings to my husband over the phone, and my husband graciously encouraged me to relax and have fun. I literally had to tell myself that it was ok to be there; that I needed to have time away with my girlfriends; that taking time away for myself is actually investing in the time that I will have when I return to my family. The trip turned out to be absolutely amazing. So, I want to encourage you to take time for yourself, and do what YOU love. When you feel refreshed then your time back with your family will also feel refreshed.
[bctt tweet=”We aren’t automatically born with naturally healthy boundaries.” username=”tiffthomps”]
Setting boundaries is not an easy task, and at first, it may feel unnatural and a bit uncomfortable. It is recommended that you pick one boundary, practice it then add more along the way. It takes a lot of practice and discipline, and the longer you stick with them, the more natural they will feel and become. If you find any or all of these boundaries to be extremely difficult, don’t be afraid to seek help. You are never expected to do this alone. You may have a healthy friend, who is good at setting boundaries and who can lend support. Don’t be afraid to open up and confide in them. Depending on your situation, setting and sticking to boundaries may require professional help of a licensed counselor, or, most importantly, if you find yourself in a dangerous situation with someone who does not respond well to any of the boundaries that you set, I highly encourage you to seek appropriate help and refuge immediately.
Now go! Run like the wind and channel your inner Braveheart voice. Enjoy your newfound FREEE-DOMMM!
*Dr Henry Cloud has a series of books and great information on boundaries. Some of his books include: Boundaries, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, Boundaries with Teens, and more. They are an excellent source recommended by professionals and have been a source of my encouragement along the way.
*To learn more about rearing healthy kids and families, check out Kevin Leman’s book Have A New Kid by Friday or any of his other amazing books on families and children.