I’ve had a lot of people say, “Hey, I’ve been told I need to set up healthy boundaries. How do I set up healthy boundaries? What are they?”
I work part-time with a mental health rehab, Renewal Behavioral Health. The reason that I bring them up is because I work there on Sundays, talking with patients about what healthy boundaries and how to set healthy boundaries. Not being a doctor or therapist or anything of that sort, it’s a lot easier on the human level to be able to say, “Hey, here’s how I did it. Maybe it’ll work for you. Maybe you can get some ideas from it.”
Setting up healthy boundaries with family
When I talk about setting up healthy boundaries, one of the biggest examples that I use is with my mom—and yes, I do talk to my mom—but I do have to have healthy boundaries with my family. My mom is someone I have to have a healthy boundary with. The reason is, let’s face it, it’s my mom, and she wants to parent me. I’m 39 years old. I don’t really want to be parented like that, so we have to have healthy boundaries.
When you set up a boundary, it’s against something that would normally trigger you. One of my biggest triggers for self-harm is the fear and thought that I am failing or letting other people down. As soon as I feel that, my fear of failure creeps in and I can relapse on self-harm. My parents have triggered that before.
So I know what triggers it. Great. Now I need a boundary to protect that trigger because it’s my responsibility. That boundary is to make sure I don’t get to the point that I feel like I’m a failure.
With my mom, if it gets to the point that I start feeling like a failure, it is my responsibility and my boundary now to speak up and say we need to change the conversation because I’m starting to really feel shitty about myself. I will literally say that, and that is my boundary. It’s up to the other person to respect your boundary. My mom does.
If you’re new setting up boundaries and somebody crosses one of yours, you have to say, “No, you don’t understand. This is a topic I don’t feel comfortable talking about. It’s something that’s going to hurt me. If you respect me, please respect this boundary. Let’s talk about something else.”
Sometimes people will guilt trip you. They’ll do manipulative things to make you feel bad for having that boundary. You can’t let them do this. Remember, it’s not selfish. It’s self-maintenance, so say, “Stop, that is my boundary.”
Venting and boundaries
A lot of times we’ll get really frustrated because maybe we want to vent and we feel so alone because any time we vent to somebody, they say, “You know what? Here’s what you need to do.” Next thing you know, they’re going to play the therapist role now because you’ve asked for help.
Sometimes we just need to share. An easy boundary to set is to say, “Hey, if I tell you, ‘Hey I just need to vent,’ just listen to me. I don’t need any repeating back input or anything like that. I just need you to listen so I can get it off my chest.” This is especially important with your spouse.
With my wife, for example, we have the same thing. She will tell me, “Hey, I need a vent right now.” As soon as she says that, I know I shouldn’t throw out suggestions, shouldn’t say “You should do this.” What I need to do is just to sit there and listen and repeat some of it back to her so she knows that I’m listening. That is a healthy boundary.
Boundaries can essentially be words or gestures that let people know, “Please stop.” Saying “Please stop” is an easy way to set up that boundary against anything that’s going to bring on added pain or to make you get to a place where you might relapse.
Remember that sometimes, if somebody is crossing that boundary, it’s okay to hang up the phone, it’s okay to walk away. You have to protect yourself. If somebody gets the point that they’re pushing me really hard, to where I could possibly relapse with alcohol, I need to walk away. I need to hang up the phone. I need to get my brain straight, and I need to protect that boundary with everything I can.
Recognize your triggers
You have to realize what all your triggers are. These are the things that maybe get you to the point that you get too emotionally involved, or emotionally hurt, or wanting to self-harm, or wanting relapse. Or they’re things that bring you to the point that you want to take it out on yourself or that make your depression even worse. You need to find out what all those triggers are.
So how do you prevent these triggers from going off? It’s not things that are going to offend you. With me, somebody making me feel like a failure doesn’t offend me. It hurts my heart and my soul. That’s why I relapse with self-harm. To prevent this, I need to let the other person know, “Hey, you need to stop. You’ve got to stop. This is getting to me. We need to stop this. New subject.”
It’s not personal. It’s protecting myself, so don’t be afraid to set up boundaries.
Protect your boundaries
You need to talk to everybody in your life you need to set up boundaries with and let them know, “Hey, you know what? When this happens, it hurts me. So let’s not talk on this topic.” Or maybe you talk about changing the way that the two of you talk about it.
The more that we own and protect our boundaries and protect our triggers, the more we’re responsible for those triggers, the less they’ll happen.
You’re going to have different boundaries with everybody, and they’re going to be for different things. That’s okay. The big thing, though, is you have to let them know, “These are my boundaries.” With clear communication, nobody should be offended. My mom wasn’t offended, my wife wasn’t offended, and other people weren’t offended by any of these.
Have a safety word
When I’ve set boundaries like this, I’ve said, “Hey, you know, I really struggle with this and I don’t like it when we talk about this, this, this, and this. Here’s my safety word.” It’s kind of like when you have a safety word for sex. You have to have a safety word with people.
My big one is “stop.” “You’ve got to stop.” The people who are close to me understand and respect that, and we’ll switch the conversation. It doesn’t have to be awkward or anything like that. We literally switch the conversation, hug it out, whatever.
Now that we’ve switched that conversation, we’ve protected that boundary and that trigger. I’m not self-harming, I’m not relapsing, I’m not taking on a burden or anything of that sort. And they don’t feel bad because they didn’t unintentionally hurt me or wonder why I’ve ghosted them or anything of that sort.
When someone oversteps your boundaries
Now, if somebody oversteps your boundaries multiple times, it’s okay to cut them out of your life. There’s nothing wrong with that because it’s your life, not their life. And it’s not about the volume of people in your life. It’s about the quality of the people in your life, who you’ve surrounded yourself with, and who has helped you lift you up and doesn’t bring you down. Remember that.
Set those healthy boundaries, even if you have to make a list of topics not to talk about and hand it to the person. Just say, “Hey, this isn’t out of being an asshole. This isn’t out of anything other than the fact that I’m trying to better and protect myself. So here you go.” It might seem awkward, but you have to be very clear on those boundaries.
The more clear you are on your boundaries, the less your boundaries get crossed. The more, too, you become comfortable to hang up the phone or walk away when you’ve built that boundary and the other person has crossed it multiple times. Hang up when that happens, and don’t hold onto the guilt. Then we also don’t end up hurting ourselves.
I hope that this helps somebody out there. If you have questions on boundaries, comment down below.
You’ve made it through a hundred percent of your worst days to make it through to today. Together we’ve got this.