Do you find it hard to say no? Whether dodging social events or accepting a task that goes beyond your work scope, declining is never easy. Yes, setting boundaries can be challenging, but it’s a skill necessary to safeguard your well-being. Follow this guide to learn why you might need to put up a wall and how to do it gracefully but firmly.
Why Setting Healthy Boundaries Is Important
In many challenging situations, guilt can get the better of you and urge you to say yes immediately. But ask yourself if yielding to the request is worth your effort. Having healthy boundaries allows you to protect your time, personal space, or sense of security. Here are more reasons to draw the line.
Boundaries allow you to assert yourself.
Turning someone down can be challenging, particularly for people-pleasers. But if you’re used to putting other people’s needs before yours, you could be an easy target for individuals with ill intentions. By asserting your needs first, you become more available to others who genuinely need you.
Boundaries prevent burnout.
Constantly meeting everyone else’s demands before yours can lead to burnout – or worse, a meltdown. As such, setting boundaries can help keep your well-being from spiralling downward. A University of Macedonia study found a significant correlation between burnout and mental issues like anxiety and depression. Another study by the Leiden University backs up this link between workplace demands and emotional exhaustion. Feeling a little burned out? Perhaps it’s time to start saying no.
Boundaries are acts of love to yourself and others.
When you set boundaries, you’re telling people you value yourself. And by communicating this, you’re trusting them to respect the lines drawn to preserve your relationship. For instance, you probably won’t resent your old pal if they turn down a last-minute invitation to see a concert. Because you’ve already established bestie boundaries (i.e., schedule socials in advance), saying no won’t come with unnecessary drama.
4 Types of Boundaries
To effectively set boundaries, you need to determine what you need to protect. Is your manager asking you to work on a weekend without replacement time? Or maybe another parent you just met at your son’s school is asking you to babysit. Some boundaries are more obvious, but other lines may seem blurry. So, listen to your gut! It can tell you when someone’s already pushing certain limits.
1. Physical boundaries
Physical boundaries are essential for protecting your body and personal space. They highlight your right to control physical contact, maintain privacy, and give or withhold consent. You can apply these in situations where you need to retain the authority to decide when, how often, or whether to participate. Some examples are when dealing with unwelcome sexual advances or engaging in uncomfortable discussions.
2. Emotional boundaries
Setting emotional boundaries involves taking ownership of your thoughts and feelings. This prevents you from allowing others to criticise or invalidate how you feel. Also, these boundaries ensure you don’t shoulder responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of others. Lastly, they empower you to control how much you’re comfortable sharing, including when you’re ready to open up.
3. Material boundaries
When someone comes to you in dire straits, helping becomes harder to resist. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your blessings, having material or financial boundaries protects you from relationships that may become liabilities.
4. Time boundaries
You have a limited number of hours each day, so you have every right to decide how to spend this precious resource. Time boundaries protect you from commitments you don’t want to make. Working long after office hours or spending your first wedding anniversary with your in-laws? Don’t be afraid to give out a hard pass.
Establishing these boundaries allows you to reclaim the time you deserve. So instead of agreeing to house-sit for your neighbour, you can use that time to prioritise your needs. Maybe you’ve been delaying that dental appointment for months. Or, you’ve been wanting to straighten your teeth and improve your smile with ClearCorrect aligners for the longest time. A simple no to someone else’s request may be all it takes to get closer to your dream smile.
How to Set Boundaries
Boundaries aren’t always clearly defined lines visible to all. Sometimes, what’s unacceptable to you might appear perfectly fine to someone else. So, learn to take a step back and assess which needs are most important to you. Whether it’s in your professional or personal life, knowing your top priorities makes it easier to put your foot down when necessary.
Choose your words.
No is a powerful word. Merely saying it can entail feelings of selfishness, guilt, and regret. To avoid these, get creative and resort to ways other than a clear-cut N-O. For instance, you might say something like, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the capacity to accomplish this,” instead of, “I can’t.”
Do you feel the need to justify your decisions? Listing your reasons or making excuses might feel like the right thing to do, but remember that a straightforward refusal is already enough. You don’t owe anyone any explanation, especially if it’s a deeply personal one.
Delay your response.
Another way to establish personal boundaries is to postpone your reply. Most people find it difficult to decline a request immediately. By delaying your response, you give yourself time to gather the courage to communicate your limits. Pro tip: don’t resort to using laters forever. Once you gain the confidence to say no to someone on the spot, you shouldn’t get back to them as often.
Setting boundaries can seem daunting at first. But like many other skills, it improves with practice and commitment. Stay consistent when communicating your limits. And remember that prioritising your needs isn’t selfish or insensitive; it’s necessary for your well-being. You’re in control; go ahead and call the shots!
Koutsimani, P., Montgomery, A., & Γεωργαντά, Κ. (2019). The Relationship Between Burnout, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.
Pluut, H., & Wonders, J. (2020). Not able to lead a healthy life when you need it the most: Dual role of lifestyle behaviors in the association of blurred Work-Life boundaries with Well-Being. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.