5 ways to set boundaries and stick to them

November 15, 2022

In the last few years, boundary setting is something that's getting more and more attention.

You can hear and see these messages everywhere. This includes social media, work settings, and social settings. We all talk about how great they are, and how vital boundaries are to our well-being. However, there's a problem: no one talk about how to set them.

Most people aren't taught the importance of boundaries when they are growing up. How often can you recall your parents encouraging you to set boundaries with kids at school that were picking on you? What about when you had a friend that you spent a lot of time with? Or, when you had multiple extracurricular commitments? The answer to these situations is likely no. While our parents didn't do this with bad intentions, this also didn't do us any favors. 

It's common for most people to have less than positive feelings about setting boundaries.

Often, people associate setting boundaries with some kind of punishment. Or, people will associate setting boundaries with having a cold demeanor. In reality, however, it's quite the opposite. Setting boundaries is quintessential to every relationship we have in our life. This includes both individual relationships and our relationships with the systems we interact with. More than likely, you're reading this blog because you want to figure out to set boundaries and stick to them. So, let's chat about what these look like in real life. 

What is a boundary?

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A boundary is a limit or rule we create with another person in a relationship that helps each party know what the other will and will not allow. In the simplest sense, a boundary is a rule of your relationship. It's okay to have different boundaries with different people. Or, to have a common theme of boundaries with multiple people. Either way, it's up to that person to decide what the boundary is and to who it applies. 

When setting boundaries, there are a few steps to follow to make sure you stick to the boundaries that you create. 

1. Recognize your limits. 

Setting boundaries is an ethical obligation for others. To set a boundary is not to limit what someone else does. Setting boundary limits what you will do. Regardless of the boundary that we have, we cannot control someone else's behavior or choices. But, we can control how we respond. It can help to come up with a list of different interactions you will "not allow." In this situation, "not allowing" certain behavior can be you removing yourself. 

2. Listen to what the voice in your head is telling you

The biggest issue with boundary setting is sticking to it. Too often, people will create boundaries that are beneficial for them. But yet, they slowly start to cave in over time. Before they know it, their actions are going against the boundary they set in the first place. Instead of falling into this trap, listen to the voice in your head that recognizes when you're doing more than you should. We all have one, but sometimes we learn to ignore it.

If you've fallen into this trap and can't hear that voice anymore, recreate one. Anytime you agree to another commitment, favor, assignment, or any other time commitment, ask yourself a few questions. First: do I have the time to do this? Second: do I want to do this? Third: if I don't do this, will the sun fall out of the sky? The responses will speak for themselves. 

3. Be clear and direct

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This one is tricky. Most of us are not raised to be direct communicators. However, direct communication is the best communication to have. Here's a new mantra to consider: being clear is being kind. Too often, we fall into passive-aggressive communication and don't get our points across. When we do this while trying to set boundaries, they likely won't stick. So, be very clear about your intentions and expectations. Say what you mean and mean what you say. There's no need to overexplain yourself or try to justify what you need. 

4. Stay consistent with your boundaries

Again, another tricky part of setting boundaries. Often, the people that we set boundaries with will typically try to push them. Mostly because they're used to us caving at some point. But don't let it happen. The firmer you are, the fewer battles you'll have in the long run. Something that can be helpful to consider is your why. Why are you setting boundaries with this person? Is it because they consistently cross them and test you? Is it because they expect too much out of you without giving you much in return? Expect that your boundaries will be tested in the beginning and come up with an action plan. 

5. Reevaluate the relationship

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As icky as it feels, it could be time to determine if this relationship is genuinely helpful for you. Often, people consistently pushing our boundaries can be a sign that they don't hold see the relationship the same. Other times, it can be that they don't see you in the same light that they see you. Either way, a pattern of pushing boundaries is not helpful for a relationship and needs to be addressed. And sometimes, it means the relationship might need to end. 

At the end of the day, you're the person who knows your situation best. You also are the only one that can reinforce your boundaries. If it feels overwhelming, that's normal. Setting boundaries is difficult, and now and then we all need a little help. 

Begin Therapy in St. Louis, MO 

Our therapists are happy to help you set boundaries and stick to them. We offer therapy in our St. Louis-based counseling practice and online therapy in Missouri. When you're ready to begin therapy in St. Louis, MO, follow these steps:

  1. Schedule an appointment
  2. Get to know our team of therapists. 
  3. Set your boundaries and stick to them!