Hot Tips to Define Your Boundaries

Yes and No Signs for creating boundaries

How to define your boundaries is one of the trickiest things to navigate in a relationship; Even when we are clear about what our personal boundaries are, it can still be a challenge to articulate and maintain them with others.

Qualitative researcher, Dr Brené Brown, says that according to her research, the primary reasons people don’t set them is;

  • They don’t want to make people mad, or disappoint them, or make them not like you
  • They don’t know how to set them without sounding self-centred or rude.

How I Used to Struggle With Setting Boundaries

How to define your boundaries is one of the trickiest things to navigate in a relationship; Even when we are clear about what our personal boundaries are, it can still be a challenge to articulate and maintain them with others.

Qualitative researcher, Dr Brené Brown, says that according to her research, the primary reasons people don’t set them is;

  • They don’t want to make people mad, or disappoint them, or make them not like you
  • They don’t know how to set them without sounding self-centred or rude.

How I Used to Struggle With Setting Boundaries

I spent many years of my life believing that people would like me more if I put their needs before my own. That we would be closer if I did all the things they asked. And that they would dislike me if I said “no” to anything.

Sound familiar? No way to define your boundaries?

As a result of those big feels, I spent WAY too long overthinking. I would spend so much time worrying about the thing that most of the pleasure associated with it had long dried up and withered away before we even got there.

It could be anything from an invitation to coffee, to a request for help moving furniture, to an offer for help with something I was working on. I would see it, and part of me would shrink in shame, knowing how badly I didn't want to, or wondering if I would have the energy to manage it when the time came.

It is Disrespectful Not to Define Your Boundaries

What I used to do, was receive a request and angst on it for-fricking-ever before I responded. You know, the message you can’t open because you know the clock is then ticking on your response. And you don't know how to define your boundaries, but maybe if you leave it long enough, you don’t have to do anything...

That is what we call "decision making by default". You ARE deciding not to even engage, which is a disrespectful way of saying no.

Sometimes I’d say yes, and hope that in the intervening time before I had to do the thing, something would come up and I could bail out.

How Do You Know if You Have Undefined Boundaries?

The quickest way to check if you have undefined boundaries is by checking in with how you feel each time you respond to a request. For those of you who struggle creating, maintaining, or even identifying boundaries, resentment & guilt are the red flags that you have work to do.

Either you;

  • Resent the hell out of the person who has asked you to do the thing you said yes to (but didn't want to do), or
  • Feel guilty a.f. about the thing you said no to (but really 'should' have done).

If you are experiencing either of those on the regular, it’s pretty clear you have some issues with your ability to define your boundaries.

Define Your Boundaries with a Fast No

One of the most respectful things you can ever do is let someone know quickly "No".

You know in your gut very quickly what you want, but then most of us override that and choose the comfort of the moment over the courage for the result. The kindest, most compassionate way to define your boundaries is to quickly and respectfully say “no”. Don't drag it out, angst for days, or try to guess how someone will respond.

The less you feel like you need to justify your answer, the higher your level of skill at creating boundaries.

  • Would you like milk in your tea? No, thank you.
  • Can you come over for dinner on Friday? No, thank you for the invitation!
  • Let's all spend Christmas together this year! No, we’ve already made plans.

From the other side of things, there are few things that irk me more than spending hours trying to book a social event or catch up. You fucking know how busy you are, what your priorities are, and what you like to or want to do. Do me the courtesy of giving me a fast no, take a rain check if you need (and come back when you say) or at least be clear about where you are at!

Give Generously with a 'Clean' Yes

I hold each of the people in my life 100% responsible for their "yes".

What that means is, if they say "yes", then I am not going try to read between the lines, go through the motions of no, you! no, you! , or second guess whether they really mean it. Part of Adulting is owning your own decisions, being able to define your boundaries, and deliver a fast No or a clean Yes.

To me, a 'clean' yes means that you agree, want to, or have at least decided that it is a priority for you. Sometimes we say yes to things we don't like or want because they are important to someone we love, or align with our own goals in another way. Say yes, and then back yourself and follow through.

A ‘dirty’ yes means you agreed, but then proceeded to piss & moan or otherwise make it clear that you *meant* no. Otherwise known as “being a martyr”.

Playing the martyr is one of the sneakiest and most aggressive plays in the drama cycle book. Completely abdicating your own agency in a decision that YOU made, and then holding someone else responsible is manipulative at best and erodes a relationship over time.

Hot Tips to Define Your Boundaries

As someone who has been SO challenged by learning how to do this, I feel you. Here is how I make it work;

Take responsibility for knowing your own skills, capabilities, and capacity.

What that means is, paying attention to how your actions impact on results, on your own energy, and on your ability to do other things.

In my life that is super simple, and really just means I pay attention to what is happening. If I am very tired one week, I look to the previous week to see if there is somewhere I could have maintained better boundaries (with myself & others). If this happens regularly – bingo! A pattern! If you notice a pattern like this in your life it is indicative of somewhere that you need to define your boundaries.

I also pay attention to the impact of my participation or non-participation for others. For example, if I chose to sit out of a family event, how did that impact my partner? Or the relationships with those family members? Is that a result I am happy with?

Be clear with friends, family & colleagues about what works for you.

I say things like "Thanks so much for the invitation to drinks, I won't be there on Friday. Actually, I find social events in the evening really don't work for me, but I am always up for breakfast or a coffee when you're keen!"

Now, I have respectfully said no, AND set the expectation that this isn't a thing I do, AND offered alternatives because I DO want to spend time together!

Have a limit each week for social / external engagements.

I’m pretty introverted, and people-time costs me a lot of energy. Of course, I LOVE spending time with my friends and family, but need to make sure that I manage my energy.

That means if there's two booked already, it's "no, thank you" to number three. Easy.

For you, it might be daily, weekly, or monthly. The frequency is only measured by what works for you!

Be committed to openness with loved ones, and honesty with others.

My friends are beautiful people, and we have an agreement that is okay to cancel because our health & mental health is paramount. So a message like “hey, can we reschedule, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed/sad/tired/busy” is received with love and kindness. No excuses required.

I am also really clear with others (who don’t need to know details) that I don’t have capacity, or if a request just isn’t a good fit for me.

For example "thanks so much for asking, that isn't going to be a good fit for me". It is much better to say a forever no, than to continue to create expectations of a future yes (and have to do it all again!) This is a way to define your boundaries, without having to make excuses or go into detail.

What I have experienced is that the clearer I am with these boundaries, the more others respect them. But it’s more than that. I no longer experience “being taken advantage of”. And most importantly, I take ownership for my own decisions. It has profoundly transformed my relationships.