What are Boundaries and How do I Set them?

Good and healthy relationships are part of living a Good Life. Good relationships require boundaries. If we have unhealthy boundaries it prevents us from living the good life. We will walk through our lives with people walking all over us, harming us, while we are in ill-health, and unable to say no, unable to live the life we want to live. We will wander through life without direction or purpose. Boundaries are especially difficult for those of us who have been in an abusive situation.

What are boundaries? Boundaries are an expression of your ideology. They tell others about your self-respect, about your worthiness. Having and enforcing boundaries tells other people how to treat us. These are the limits on what you will take from other people. 

Boundaries are also an expression of your values. What we value is where we place our boundaries. We set boundaries based on what we believe is important and why we believe it. We will protect what we value. We will invest in what we value. 

Boundaries are also limitations on how much you will give to others. This boundary looks like saying no. They allow us to say no when we don’t have time, when we’re not interested, when we’re overbooked, and when we’re unavailable. I think the hardest part of this boundary is saying no when we don’t have a reason and saying no because we simply don’t want to do it. Boundaries are an exercise of self control.

It’s not always about saying no. Boundaries also allow us to say yes. We say yes to what we want and enjoy. Life is not just obligations, life is also what we want. Humans can only really do one thing at a time – multitasking is a myth. The truth is that if we’re overbooked on doing what we have to do or what we feel obligated to do, we’ll never be able to do what we want to do or what is good for us to do. When do you get to do what you want to do? Do you even have time to figure it out?

What do you value? What is the most important thing in your life? How do you treat it? How do you want others to treat it?

There are a million answers to this questions and  the first answer should always begin with you. You’re not a thing but you’re first and foremost on your list of what is valuable. Your physical, mental, and emotional self is the most important thing to you. You cannot do any other things until you have protected and invested in the most important thing you have – your body. You cannot achieve goals or effectively protect your physical self until you protect your mental and emotional self. 

Your health is the most important things you have. If you do not take care of your physical self, your mental self, and emotional self will suffer. The same is true of all your emotional and mental health too – the others will suffer if you don’t take care of each. . The three parts are inseparable.

What comes next? After yourself what do you value? What are your core values? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in the spirituality of the universe? What do you believe in? Once we know the answers to this question we can follow that through to how to behave and what to do. 

Here’s how it works. I believe in God, Jesus as my savior, the helping presence of the Holy Spirit, and the Bible as truth. This means that I have beliefs on where (and how much)  to give my money, what to do (and not do) in relationships, what to say (and not say) to other people, and how to live in this world. My religious beliefs inform my entire life. The more I learn, and the more I change – the better I interact with the world and the people in it.

Because of my beliefs, I have decided that I should be a person of integrity. I believe I should do my best to do the right thing, for the right reason, whether it was recognized by others or not. I also decided that I needed to do the right thing even if it was hard and even if the consequences were high. What I do, how I do it, and why I do it matters. 

Now that you know what how do I set my boundaries? Your boundaries should begin with yourself. You should protect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being first. This is where you begin to say no to engagements, time suckers, toxic people, and excess. You stop (or limit your) dealing with people, situations, and things in order to protect your physical, mental, and emotional health.

People to limit: abusers, toxic people, resources suckers, takers, co-dependent people, and mean people are just a few. Situations to  limit: those that trigger you, leave you drained, make you feel insecure/anxious/afraid, those that make you sick and those that will take away all your free time. Things to limit: those that are unhealthy, make you ill, harm you, or exhaust you. 

Here are some examples: 

  • I will not allow another person to call me names, refer to me in a way I don’t like (i.e. a terrible nickname). 
  • I will not allow another person to intentionally physically harm me. I will not allow another person to inadvertently harm me without bringing it to their attention so they will stop. 
  • I will not allow another person to touch me without my permission. 
  • I will not allow another person to enter my space, my home, my life who mistreats me. 
  • I will not prolong contact with _____ if I do not feel it is helpful for my mental or emotional health. 
  • I will drink ____ ounces of water each day. 
  • I will exercise for ___ minutes ___ days a week. 
  • I will locate and enlist the assistance of a counselor to help with _____ issue. 
  • I only have one hour to watch tv before i make dinner. 
  • I cannot work this weekend, I cannot stay late. 

Additional boundaries will flow from your values. In January, we thought a lot about The Good Life and our purpose in life. (read about it here) Additional boundaries flow from your purpose and chosen path in life. You will make decisions on where you will spend your time, your money, and your energy. After your physical self, these are your additional assets. We all have them and they are all in short supply. We have some unknown amount of days on this planet, we have to spend our resources wisely. 

We must eat, sleep, and rest in order to work to make money to do other things. How you choose to do all of these things impacts whether or not you can fulfill your purpose. How you choose to do each of these things impacts how much you can do the other. If you want to do the things that move your heart, you must take care of your heart first and then take care of the rest for your heart. 

If we don’t steward our assets well, we will not be able to fulfill our purpose in life. Our life will have less impact on the world around us. We will feel less joy, less peace, less love. We will just have less. 

How do I tell other people about my boundaries? Tell other people about your boundaries plainly and without excuses. Generally, I try to state a boundary in a matter of fact manner. I try not to be angry or aggressive about it. Usually a simple no will be enough. Remember “No.” is a complete sentence. Nothing needs added to it. 

If you have five minutes when you answer a call, tell the person you have five minutes. If you only want to spend five minutes on a call to protect your mental and emotional health, tell the person plainly “I have five minutes.” 

If you want to show up to your holiday family gathering but don’t want to see a person who harmed you, who you don’t get along with, or who is harmful to you in any way there are options. You can not go, you can leave if something happens, you can sit away from the person, you can express to the person that they cannot do that to you. No additional information is needed – you don’t need to justify your worth, your protection, or your desire to other people around you. 

There are as many ways to set boundaries and express values as there are numbers and people. It looks different for everyone, for every situation, for everything we value. It’s okay to just say no. It’s okay to protect yourself. 

You don’t need permission, but I think someone needs to hear that it’s okay to protect you. It’s okay to end a relationship. It’s okay to pause participation in family stuff. It’s okay to say no to serving on one more charitable committee. It’s okay to say no to serving one more weekend at church. It’s okay to say this isn’t right for me, I need a break, or I must not do this thing. It’s okay to say I won’t do this thing this way anymore or  I am not okay in this situation. It’s okay to protect yourself and reorganize your life so that it is better for you. 

Even Jesus set boundaries with his friends and the people he taught. He went to pray alone, he sent people away when he was finished preaching – he didn’t give all the people unlimited access to who he was.

Boundary setting can be hard on us. It can also be hard on the people around us who have experienced our lax boundaries and have gotten used to being able to take advantage of us. You may feel guilty about setting a boundary, limiting access to you, and saying no. I’d like to say – don’t feel guilty. You are simply protecting your assets – your self, your time, your energy, and your life.


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