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Setting Boundaries Cheat Sheet

A winding fence in the country

We have all heard many, many times that one of the keys to respectful, satisfying relationships is boundaries. To have boundaries means to have clear guidelines on what behavior is permissible from the people in our lives so that our interactions with them remain respectful and constructive. Yet, while having boundaries is a common suggestion, it takes many of us a while to figure out how to set them.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to LYB owner Lisa Berry about an issue she was facing. She said to me “I know I need to establish boundaries with this person, but how?” I responded “Next time she brings this up, just smile and drop the topic.” The conversation made me think about the other ways we can set boundaries with people. I decided to write a list as a reminder for when things get emotional and it’s hard to remember setting boundaries can actually be easy. Here is that list.

1) Decide not to talk about it

One of the most common ways people violate our boundaries is by offering opinions on our lives even though we have not asked for them. A second common way is by asking questions or broaching topics we aren’t comfortable with. I used to think I had to take it, pretend I was going along with the conversation and just fake laugh or flat out lie instead of sharing my truth. But it always left me feeling icky inside and the worst part was by pretending it was OK, they kept doing it. I finally learned to set a boundary by very kindly smiling and changing the topic. If that is not enough, I will say “I love you so much, but I don’t want to talk about that, at least not right now.” If they keep pressing, I will say: “I am serious. I don’t want to talk about it.” It’s rare for the person to keep going. If they do, you may want to evaluate whether they are overwhelming you in other areas of your life as well and whether they are the kind of person you want in your life.

2) Don’t explain yourself and don’t apologize

As women, we so often feel the need to over explain our decisions. We often also feel the need to apologize for our preferences. Unfortunately, this opens the door for people to violate our boundaries since it essentially invites them to comment on what we are sharing. An example from my life: I don’t like traveling without my kids. When friends would invite me on girls’ trips, I would go on and on about how I know it’s ridiculous, but I am just not ready to leave them, etc, etc, etc. They always responded with their opinions on my parenting. It drove me bananas! Now I just say I am not available or I would rather join them for some other activity. It stops the conversation dead in its tracks.

The same goes with apologizing. Truth is, it’s not always easy for me to be vegan when I am invited to other people’s homes. I used to apologize so much for myself, which often opened the door for a discussion about my diet. Now I just say “I know it can be tricky to feed a vegan, so I am happy to bring lots of yummy food for everyone!” The conversation rarely goes any further.

3) If something doesn’t feel good, speak up

Up until my 30s, I was a phenomenal punching bag for friends. I believe this is due to an experience I had when I was in third grade. My best friend at the time went through a gut-wrenching time while her mom battled breast cancer. She used to take her emotions out on me, saying very hurtful things to me. I told my mom it didn’t feel good and my mom, not being able to know how I would take her comment or how it would affect me in the long run, said my friend was suffering and I was helping her by being there for her. From that point on, I gravitated towards friends that were often emotionally abusive to me under the guise of having a hard time. I finally figured out that it’s OK to say: “I know you’re having a hard time, and I feel for you, but your words/actions are hurting me, so I am going to step away for now.” Speaking up applies to many other scenarios, too. For example, if you’re not comfortable with a friend/family member relying on you too much, you can also say: “I can’t right now. I will help you again as soon as I am able to.”

4) Don’t expect others to respond the way you assume they should

This one is sneaky, and we all do it sometimes. We have a pushy friend or family member who wants something we can’t or don’t want to do or give. We don’t want to say no directly, so we state our excuses expecting them to get the picture. Unfortunately, even individuals with the best intentions can’t read between the lines sometimes. So no matter what we say, they don’t come back to us with the reaction we would hope to get. The result? Our boundaries are violated. One way to establish boundaries is to stop doing this. When someone begins to ask for something you aren’t comfortable with, just say “not this time,” and smile.

5) Learn how to disengage emotionally

This is the crux of the matter right here. The truth is, we can master the above tools for setting boundaries, but if we continue to give a lot of power to people’s reactions or their opinions of us, our boundaries will be violated. We need to center ourselves in our truth and give more weight to our peace, then let the rest go. The good thing is, the more we practice this, the easier it gets. At first, we do have to talk ourselves through why we shouldn’t give something so much power, why it’s better to disengage mentally and emotionally. After a while, it gets easier and easier to very quickly know or remember we have the right to stand up for our space and our preferences.

When it came to boundaries, I always feared that setting them would cause the other person to dislike me or even discontinue our friendship. There are a few relationships that dissolved when I began to establish boundaries, one of them with a close family member. Interestingly, I don’t miss them one bit, even though I thought I would. Yet, aside from those truly toxic ones, none of the other ones have suffered. It makes sense when looking at this list: these boundaries are firm, but not harsh. They aren’t insulting to the other person, they aren’t even judgmental. In no way do they communicate we aren’t interested in the person or the relationship.

Furthermore, by clearly stating our needs and limits, we are actually empowering those in our lives to help us be happy. In this way, we are actually strengthening our relationships with them as we are opening the door for friendships that are truly satisfying.

What have you learned about boundaries, how to set them and how they change your relationship dynamics? Let me know at

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