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If You Struggle With Setting Healthy Boundaries, This Guide Is for You

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It’s taken me many years to understand the importance of setting healthy boundaries.

In fact, it wasn’t until the end of a year-long program of narrative exposure therapy for my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in early 2020 that I really began to understand what setting boundaries could look like for me.

I have emotional dysregulation, which means that I don’t always behave in a socially acceptable way. The dysregulation mostly occurs when someone behaves toward me in a way that triggers a highly exaggerated emotional response.

Without healthy boundaries in place, this behavior could look quite volatile and uncontrollable. With healthy boundaries and clear communication with others, everything is calmer and easier for me to control. This creates a safe framework for me to hold space for conversation and to inform people about what I will and will not tolerate.

What do healthy boundaries look like?

Setting healthy boundaries is a form of self-care, and it can allow people to understand what you feel are acceptable or unacceptable behaviors. Boundaries can help keep you safe and grounded and let other people know that you have agency.

In practice, a healthy boundary could look like telling someone that communicating in a raised voice isn’t OK with you and that the conversation can’t continue until it stops. It could also mean asking people not to call in-person at your house unless they are invited because people knocking on your door unexpectedly makes you anxious. A healthy boundary could even be asking someone to respect your time and not be late when you agree to meet them.

It’s often worthwhile to take some time to consider which changes you may want to make and which boundaries you might need to set in your life.

What happens when we set and reinforce boundaries?

If you’ve never done it before, drawing these lines can feel uncomfortable — not just for you but also for the people around you. It can bring up a lot of emotions and maybe a bit of resentment too.

People may not be used to you setting rules and limits. While this might cause some upset at first, stay firm and be polite when you explain what you plan on doing moving forward.

People often don’t appreciate change — even when it’s for the better. Remember, though, that your priority is safeguarding yourself and your mental health and that others’ discomfort is their own responsibility.

What can you do when you want to apologize for your boundaries?

In the past, I sometimes felt really guilty for setting boundaries — especially when I saw that family or friends felt put off by my decision to put new guidelines in place that helped me navigate my life and mental health in a way that was kinder to myself.

If a person makes you feel bad for setting a healthy boundary, that’s a surefire indication that you were right to set it!

You don’t need to apologize for living your life in a way that’s more compassionate towards yourself or for asking for help from others to make your life feel easier.

What can you do when someone oversteps?

There will be occasions when people forget — or worse, completely disregard — the parameters you set. If it’s the former situation, then a polite reminder will probably do the trick. If it’s the latter, then you may have to be more assertive in maintaining the boundary that you’ve set.

I will give someone the benefit of the doubt once — with a reminder that their behavior is unacceptable to me. If it happens again, I create distance until the behavior is rectified. On the rare occasion that nothing changes, then that person no longer gets any of my time.

It doesn’t matter who’s testing you — you have the right to set and maintain healthy boundaries regardless.

Having spent the time since ending therapy setting and maintaining my own boundaries, I can honestly say I’ve cut a huge amount of emotional chaos and exhaustion out of my life. All humans have their own struggles, so go ahead and arm yourself with the tools to keep your life balanced and happy.

Getty image by monkeybusinessimages.

Originally published: July 16, 2022
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