Go Love Yourself

The Art and Science of Setting Boundaries

The Art and Science of Setting Boundaries

During the holidays, demands seem to come our way from every direction. There is a slew of invitations from family, work obligations to fulfill, and festivities with friends, leaving us physically, emotionally, socially, and sometimes financially exhausted.

Boundaries, quite simply, are the practice of loving yourself out loud–in front of others–and enforcing the notion that what you want and need matter.

A boundary is the line in the sand that you draw when you say, “I am willing to attend one work function and one family function. I am not willing to stay at any event past ten, pay more than $20 for gifts, or wear heels.” Our boundaries are our way of sharing our thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs with ourselves and others.

Boundaries are particularly difficult to enforce because of the pressures we face to please those around us. We feel immense guilt and fear when we dare to stand up for ourselves and risk upsetting those we care about.

But boundaries have nothing to do with our love or commitment to others. They are not judgement or betrayal. They are simply a commitment we make to ourselves to respect ourselves at least as much as we respect the wants and needs of others.

And while others will have thoughts and feelings of their own, it is our job to respect their thoughts and feelings–not to live by them.

Here are six steps to setting your boundaries:

1. Identify spoken and unspoken expectations

Your boss may invite you to a holiday outing, but only expect you to make an appearance. Your friends may request your presence at multiple events, and expect you at one or two. Your family may expect you to be exactly who you were ten years ago. Identifying unspoken expectations may help you to pinpoint feelings of resentment and clue you in to what you want and don’t want.

2. Identify your thoughts, feelings, wants and needs

Spend time cultivating your self-awareness and paying attention to your inner game: What do you wish you could be doing right now? What would make you 10% happier? If you’d rather sit at home in your onesie than spend a night on the town or skip dinner rather than forcing a smile while your crazy uncle talks about immigration policy, you’re onto something big. Listen in.

3. Set clear boundaries with and for yourself

Before you can set clear boundaries with anyone else, you need to set them with yourself. How much sleep do you really want and need? How much are you willing to shell out for parties and presents? Practice holding yourself to your boundaries and honoring your commitments to yourself. Build your sense of confidence and integrity by keeping promises you make to yourself, first.

4. Rehearse setting boundaries

Setting boundaries does not need to feel, or be, confrontational. Practice saying a few phrases out loud such as, “No, thanks!” or “I’m all set!” or “That sounds so fun! I’m going to pass this time, thank you for thinking of me!” Try to avoid apologizing for respecting yourself. Challenge your fears and guilt along the way, and remind yourself that other people’s happiness is not your responsibility.

5. Voice your boundaries early and often

Voice your boundary in advance, especially when setting boundaries around long-held, unspoken expectations. “I know my weight has been a joke the past few years. It is not funny to me anymore, and I’d like for us to avoid this topic.” Voice yourself calmly, clearly, and confidently. You don't need to explain yourself or make anyone feel better in the process. Repeat your boundary as needed.

6. Enforce the boundaries you’ve set

Once you’ve stated your boundary calmly and with conviction, hold to it. You may receive push back. Resist the urge to people please, and remember that women who stand up for themselves when it’s inconvenient for others, or when they're used to giving in, can feel like a bitch, simply for standing up for ourselves. When all else fails, remove yourself from the situation.