Have you ever mustered up the courage to finally set boundaries with someone in your life, only to have them completely ignore those boundaries, push back on those boundaries, or make you feel lousy for setting them in the first place? You’re not alone.
Shawnta Wright, MA, LCMHCS, is a Licensed and Nationally Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor, as well as the owner of the mental wellness practice Mindful Bodies LLC, who helps clients not only create boundaries but enforce them.
“Little do people know, boundaries actually require two steps: expressing them, and then enforcing them,” Wright says.
It can be tough to establish and enforce healthy boundaries, especially for those of us who are empaths. But have no fear. Here are four steps to fully communicate and stick with your boundaries when they are tested, so you can reclaim your rightful peace of mind.
Step #1: Establish the need for a boundary
“If you feel like other people often take advantage of your time, energy, or money, and you are involved in some ‘one-sided’ or uneven personal and professional relationships, then you may want to start establishing healthy mental, emotional and physical boundaries,” Wright says.
A boundary is a limit or space between you and another person, or as Wright says, “a clear place where we begin and others end.” Boundaries are guidelines and rules that help protect our inner peace.
“A complete absence of boundaries may indicate that we lack a strong self identity or are enmeshed with other people. An absence of boundaries is like leaving the door to your home unlocked: anyone, including unwelcome guests, can enter at will. On the other hand, having too rigid boundaries can lead to isolation, like living in a locked-up castle surrounded by a mote. No one can get in, and you can’t get out.”
An important step within identifying the need for a boundary is separating your needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires from others.
“Recognize that your boundaries and needs are different from others,” Wright affirms.
Step #2: Express your boundaries
“When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible,” Wright directs. “Do not justify, get angry, or apologize for the boundary you are setting.”
Wright makes it clear that we are not responsible for other people’s reaction to the boundaries we set. We are only responsible for communicating our boundaries in a respectful manner.
“If it upsets others, know it is their problem,” Wright says.