Setting healthy boundaries

We’ve all seen those medieval movies where the castle walls defend the townspeople from the invading army. The purpose of the castle walls is to keep the people safe. Many of us don’t realize that, just like those castle walls, setting healthy boundaries keep us safe.

A boundary is the demonstration of how we protect ourselves when a situation causes us to feel in danger or disrespected. Boundaries can be set by voicing them or by our behaviors. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with setting limits. Some of us are conflict-avoidant while others are passive aggressive. When we are not assertive the power of the boundary is lost in the delivery.

There are actually two types of boundaries: internal and external boundaries. However, most people are only familiar with external boundaries. Being assertive is one of the best attributes we can demonstrate for self-advocacy. The formula for setting a healthy boundary is:

  1. Use “I” statements. “I” statements are statements that only use the word “I” and not “you.” Anytime you use the word “you” when you are setting a boundary the person will hear it as an attack and become defensive. For example, “I am feeling frustrated because I am not being heard in this conversation.”
  2. Explain which behavior is causing your discomfort.
  3. Tell the offender what the consequence will be if the behavior continues.
  4. Follow through with your boundary/consequence.

For example, you are on the phone with someone who starts to yell at you. A healthy boundary would be, “I am feeling attacked in this conversation. If the yelling does not stop I will hang up.” The person yells again. You hang up the phone.

Did you realize it is just as important to set internal boundaries with yourself? The part of us that advocates and protects others should also be just as active inside our head. However, most people don’t pay attention to that voice and don’t internally self-advocate. For example, if I’m always telling myself I can’t do something, or I’m always a failure, my own self-confidence will continue to falter. This then opens the door for more negative self-talk and negative self-belief. Did you realize that you are emotionally abusing yourself?

Setting an internal boundary is essentially treating the negative thoughts or behaviors as you would treat a person who is being disrespectful to you. (Obviously for internal boundaries you may use “you” statements.) Pretend as if the negative self-talk is like a person bullying you. How would you respond? For example, “I don’t appreciate you beating yourself up by this negative self-talk.” “I am not ok with you telling yourself you are a failure, or always staying up at night worrying.” “This needs to stop now.” When we allow the internal advocate voice to tell us to, basically, snap out of it, we realize that the emotions and thoughts we are having are detrimental and negative. Without creating an internal self-boundary you will not be able to regulate your thoughts and emotions and will live in self-defeat.

When you learn to set healthy boundaries with the people around you and the internal negative self-talk, you will live a life full of emotional, physical and spiritual safety. You are your biggest advocate. The more assertive you are the more enriched your life will be.

James Miller is a licensed psychotherapist and a piano composer who is known for his weekly podcast, YouTube channel, and his Academy where he teaches successful people to simplify and transform their lives. James’ latest album, Restoration, is available for purchase on all digital music stores.

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