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Creating and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

Written by: Miranda Owen 

Miranda Owen is one of NAMI Wake’s work study students, helping us as a social media technician and blog contributor. 

Have you ever been in an uncomfortable situation with a friend? Felt like your space was invaded by your family member? Been unappreciated by your spouse? These difficult everyday situations can be mitigated by creating physical and emotional boundaries and ensuring that these boundaries are respected. 

Building Boundaries 

Therapist Tracy Hutchinson, PhD, says the first step to feeling respected and safe in your relationships is knowing your rights. These rights include: 

  1. To feel safe in a relationship
  2. To have your privacy and boundaries you have created, respected
  3. To be heard and listened to
  4. To feel validated
  5. To be appreciated and valued
  6. To respect that the answer “no” means “no”
  7. To have your needs met
  8. To be treated respectfully- absence of emotional, physical, or verbal abuse

Of course, you do not need to limit yourself by these rights, but they can serve as a guide for creating the boundaries that are important to you. It will take time and practice to figure out which boundaries are most important to you. While thinking about this, take into consideration your rights, values, life experiences, and relationship dynamics. 

Examples of boundaries include: 

  1. Saying “no” without guilt 
  2. Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions 
  3. Feeling supported by loved ones 
  4. Not feeling responsible for other people’s emotions 
  5. Stating physical boundaries 

Practicing Healthy Boundaries

  • Be assertive 

Use assertive language to state and maintain your boundaries. Assertive language is clear and nonnegotiable. This language should feel firm, but kind, to others. Using “I” statements can help you easily practice assertiveness. For instance, “I feel ___ when ____” or “I need ____ from you right now.” Assertive communication is not aggressive or threatening but helps show others what you expect and what your rights are. 

  • Learn to say “no”  

Even though it is difficult for some people to say it, remember that “no” is a complete sentence. You can say no to anyone for any reason with no explanation required. Becoming comfortable with saying “no” goes hand in hand with assertiveness and is a great way to make your boundaries clear. 

  • Safeguard your spaces 

You can set and maintain boundaries for both your physical and emotional spaces. Whether this means stating your physical boundaries to a friend or partner or explaining to someone when a boundary of yours was broken, be sure that the boundaries that are important to you are made clear. Sometimes this does not require vocal communication, for instance, putting a passcode on your phone to safeguard your technological boundaries. 

  • Get support if needed 

If you have trouble setting or maintaining your boundaries or otherwise need help, reach out to a mental health professional. This can be especially helpful when navigating boundaries if you experience mental illness or if people in your life cross boundaries often. 

Benefits of Healthy Boundaries 

  • Conserve emotional energy 

Setting and maintaining boundaries will help you conserve your emotional energy and can put you in a better mental state. 

  • More independence and self-esteem  

With emotional and physical boundaries, you will develop autonomy and independence. Maintaining your assertiveness about your boundaries will also help bolster your self-esteem. 

  • Better relationships 

When you are able to create and maintain your own boundaries and respect those of your partner, friends, and family; you can see improvements in these relationships.  Setting clear communication and expectations will allow you to bring about healthier relationships and, you may even influence the behavior of others in a positive way. 

Sources: I, II

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