Establishing Healthy Boundaries

by 26Health Staff

The topic of boundaries comes up in and out of sessions all the time. People know what boundaries are but don’t know how to establish them.

Setting Boundaries When You’re a Giver

Many situations come up in life where boundaries need to be put in place. A lot of people are what I call “caregivers.” They want to please people by saying yes but often get taken advantage of and find themselves exhausted from running errands and “being there” for others. My advice when someone asks you to do something for them is to ask 3 questions before saying, “Yes”:

1. Would that person do it for me?
2. How motivated am I to do it?
3. How much does it put me out to do it?

I use the example of someone asking me to take them to the airport at 5 in the morning on a weekday:

1. I doubt this person would do it for me.
2. I’m not motivated to do it at all.
3. I work from 11-7 and sleep until 8:30.

Taking someone somewhere so early in the morning would make me tired and groggy for the rest of the day and then I can’t pay attention to clients the way I need to. Therefore, the answer is, “No.”

How to Say No

You might be wondering, “How do I say no?” Start off by making it clear the answer is No. When someone asks you for a favor, such as giving them a ride to the airport, you tell them: “No, I’m not going to be able to do that because of my work schedule. Maybe you could take an Uber.” No apologies or guilt. Offering an alternative suggestion sounds less cold.

I once had a friend that asked me to go to a pool party/bbq for the 4th of July. My response was: “No, that’s not something I would enjoy, but thank you very much for asking. I hope you have a good time and let’s meet up later this week.” There is no room for bargaining when the answer is a firm “No.” You’re being polite by thanking them for the invite and hoping they have fun and you’re also letting them know it’s not because you don’t like them when you invite them out later.

Establish Boundaries By Protecting Yourself

Another way to create healthy boundaries is to avoid absorbing others’ emotions, manage the expectations of everyone involved, and do not take things personally.

It can become very stressful in our office at times. During the last ten minutes of the hour everyone is rushing around getting ready for the next client and trying to cram in notes, phone calls, eating, and anything else under the sun. To make sure I don’t absorb the stress, I sometimes must physically remove myself from the office by walking around the building once or twice to get away from it all and recharge.

In terms of managing expectations, I meet people where they’re at and remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: “People function at different levels of care. If someone is worried about getting evicted from their home, that’s not the time to work with them on a weight loss plan or enlightenment. Most of the time, people are functioning at their best or at least trying to. You can’t compare that to your level of functioning.”

The point is, if someone rubs you the wrong way, it’s probably not intentional. So you shouldn’t take it personally.