There are many ways to set boundaries. There are the boundaries that people can set with themselves, such as how they cut out bad habits or enforce healthier habits. But setting boundaries isn’t always as cut and dry as people may think.
Many boundary-setting scenarios involve setting boundaries relative to other people. In these instances, if you aren’t careful, you may not end up merely setting boundaries for self-care, as much as inadvertently building walls between you and others.
By setting an effective boundary, the hope is that you’re giving your own needs a voice and acknowledgement in a situation. But if you cut off the other person because you feel entitled to your needs, you may still get your needs met, but it would come at the expense of the relationship with the other person.
It can be all too easy to forget that if you are setting a boundary with someone else involved, this means there may be two competing sets of needs. It’s easy to become fully consumed with our own needs when boundary setting.
As with anything, balance is important to consider in this equation. If by setting a boundary you’re simultaneously disregarding or knocking over someone else’s needs in favor of your own needs, then you’re creating a dynamic of resentment. Unless you do not care about the relationship with the person between whom you are setting these boundaries, it is still important to manage the delicate nature of your needs coming at the expense of theirs.
People often can forget that the other person has feelings and needs of their own, as “setting boundaries” at times takes on the connotation of “do whatever you need for yourself and forget the other person.” But, this is where walls are built and the boundaries have lost their meaning in the relationship.
So, how does a person effectively set boundaries when other people are involved?
1) Introduce your needs — Before the point of “setting” anything, first bring your needs into the conversation so there is awareness between you and the other person of what is being negotiated.
2) Understand the other’s needs — Although we’re looking to establish your needs as necessary and important in this situation, in order to have an effective communication it is important to understand the various present needs in a situation. You want the person or people you are negotiating needs with to know that you’re considering their side, which will hopefully open them to your side, too.
3) Test the middle ground — Believe it or not, if both sides are motivated, there can often be a place to meet in the middle, where both (or more) sets of needs are acknowledged in some way. This isn’t always the case, but it’s worth first seeing if everyone’s voice can have room, with a bit of compromise possibly.
4) Know your deal-breakers — THIS is the act of setting boundaries. What is a deal-breaker for you? When you reach a point of a deal breaker, this must be made known in the communication. This lets the other person know your boundary — a need that can’t be relinquished — whether in a relationship at home, or at work, or with a friend, etc.
5) Negotiate and compromise — This step makes the difference between effective and ineffective boundary setting. With negotiation, you may not necessarily budge on your deal-breaker, but what you hope to find is anywhere else you can compromise, even if this means where in the future you will be willing to prioritize the other’s needs above yours in exchange for your current need be made the priority.
In the end, the trick to setting boundaries is to do so without entitlements. You can tell your boss that you’re setting a boundary and no longer working on Fridays. However, it would be expected that your boss would come back and say, “okay, then you’re not going to work here.” You may have to hold a firm ‘no’ with a friend about a boundary you are setting, but it doesn’t mean not to be sensitive or aware of their side when doing so.
We all have boundaries that we’d like to create, but just like with everything else, balancing our needs in relation to others’ needs is necessary if we want to have functional relationships with people.
The overall point is to make sure that your needs have a voice and are relevant in the relationship. While we can’t always have what we want exactly when we want it, we can at least make sure that there will be a time and a place for our needs.