How to Set Healthy Boundaries

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

You’ve probably heard that it’s important to set healthy boundaries in order to prioritize your needs, maintain healthy relationships, achieve your goals, and improve your mental health. But how do you go about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries?


Types of Boundaries

There are two types of boundaries we can set: 1. Physical and 2. Emotional. Physical boundaries are about behavior. It includes how we carry ourselves, if, when, and how we allow others to touch us physically (e.g., sexual conduct vs platonic touch), and how close we get into others’ physical spaces and vice-versa. 

Emotional boundaries are invisible and harder to crack. It’s about how much we allow other people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to dictate our own, how much we take on other people’s problems as our own, and how much we allow other people to get invested in our own emotions and problems. It’s good to be empathetic, but there’s a line between empathy and feeling others’ emotions and problems as our emotions and problems. If someone you know is sad, you can be there for them without it changing your entire demeanor for the day. Setting emotional boundaries also includes deciding how much personal information you divulge with people, depending on your relationship and how long you’ve known each other.


What Healthy Boundaries Look Like

Healthy boundaries are about balance. You don’t want too many boundaries or too few. Sometimes you have to let people in, and sometimes you have to protect yourself and put your needs first. Whatever relationship you’re in, you and the other person’s boundaries have to be parallel to one another. The walls you both put up when you first meet may be set high. As you get to know and trust each other, you chip away, divulging more about yourself and reducing the physical and emotional space between you. The other person chips away at their wall the same amount so your walls come down together in a parallel fashion. Image two columns: one is yours and represents your boundaries; the other column represents the boundaries of the other person. When they are at equal heights, your relationship is balanced and healthy.

healthy boundaries relationships - Dr. Heather Violante, Psychologist Florida New York

What Unhealthy Boundaries Look Like

An unhealthy dynamic is when one wall is high and the other is low. Either you are letting the other person dictate your needs, feelings and behaviors by not setting boundaries, or the other person hasn’t set boundaries and allowing you to dominate the relationship (whether you are imposing this or the other person is a people-pleaser who isn’t expressing their needs). This leads to an unhealthy, unbalanced dynamic that can cause resentment, anxiety, or conflict down the road.unhealthy relationships - set boundaries - Dr. Heather Violante online therapy New York FloridaIf your wall is all the way up and stays that way, never letting anyone in, it’s a sign that your boundaries are too rigid. This can lead to others feeling disconnected from you, and you may experience loneliness. To avoid getting hurt, you push people away. This could stem from fear of abandonment or rejection.

If you get too invested in others too fast, not protecting yourself, it could be that your boundaries are too loose. If you are a people-pleaser and overstep your own boundaries or let others overstep your boundaries, it can lead to you feeling resentful and unfulfilled or getting hurt.

If you have partial boundaries and are inconsistent, it’s difficult for others to know where you stand. No one knows what they are going to get from you from one day to the next. Sometimes people will have set solid boundaries, but then will suddenly flip without finding the healthy medium. 

It’s important to avoid extremes, find the middle ground, and make gradual changes so others know what to expect.


Steps for Creating Healthy Boundaries

  1. Identify your values, priorities, and goals in life. Values are characteristics you hold true, such as loyalty, honesty, personal growth, open-mindedness, etc. Priorities are things you do that support and align with your values. For example, if health is a value, a priority is making time for exercise and therapy. If you are unsure what your values are, therapy can help you figure it out so you can build the life you want. Keep in mind that your values, priorities, and goals are always shifting and most likely won’t stay the same forever. 
  2. Define your boundaries that uphold your values and priorities. Are your values and priorities being nurtured in your relationships? If not, then you may need to set better boundaries. What do you need to do to stick to your values and priorities? Spend time with specific people? Set aside time to go for a walk? Limit contact with a particular person? Are there things you currently do that don’t support your values and priorities? Take the time to figure out what tangible boundaries you need to set in order for you to live in alignment with your values. As your values and priorities change over time, your boundaries will too.
  3. Clearly state your values and boundaries to others. What do you want in your life? Make those requests or behave in ways that bring positive gains in your life. Asserting yourself and stating your needs is not the same as conflict. If you don’t express yourself, other people may not understand why you set your boundaries in the first place. For example if you say, “I need you to watch the kids every Thursday night,” it doesn’t explain why you need this behavioral pattern to change. State your needs first: “I highly value my platonic relationships. This friendship is a priority to me, so I’d like to dedicate more time to it. Can you take care of the kids once a week so I can make more time for this person?” That leads with your needs, then the two of you can figure out how to make that work together. By expressing your values and needs, it empowers both of you. 
  4. Be consistent and stick to your boundaries. When someone sets boundaries for the first time, other people will often retaliate. This can look like not believing you will stick to them, forgetting your boundaries and unintentionally crossing them, manipulation, or being dismissive. When you continually restate and stick to your boundaries, the people in your life who care will adapt and try to respect your boundaries. Keep communicating why you need healthy boundaries and how they will help you achieve your goals.
  5. Spend more time with people who nourish your values and respect your boundaries. Who in your life is truly supportive of you? You get to decide who you spend your time with and who you give yourself to, both physically and emotionally. When you dedicate more time to the positive and healthy relationships in your life, you’ll see that it will help you both grow.
  6. Let go of toxic relationships. If someone in your life is dismissive of your boundaries, doesn’t support your values and goals, or is intentionally manipulating you, it could be a sign that you are in an unhealthy relationship. Click here to learn more about how to let go of toxic relationships.

If you are finding it difficult to identify your values, communicate your needs with your loved one(s), and set healthy boundaries, talking to a therapist can help you gain clarity on what you want out of life and help you achieve it. Dr. Violante provides teletherapy (online video therapy) to adults living in New York and Florida who are ready to move forward and make positive changes in their life. Contact her online or call 754-333-1484 today to learn more.