How to Set Boundaries With People

by Donna Porter

If you feel that you are frequently taken advantage of or that someone does not respect your space and belongings, these tips can help you set boundaries with people and better protect your rights.

Determine if the person does not respect your boundaries or simply isn't aware of them. This will affect how firmly you need to respond in order to get the best results. Some people that lack respect for others' possessions, time and feelings may lack awareness of boundaries themselves.

Distinguish a boundary from a pet peeve by writing down the behavior that you wish to stop. Then follow with the reason(s) that the behavior is wrong to you. If it is something that simply gets on your nerves, rather than disrespecting you, a compromise may be in order. Otherwise, if the request respects their boundaries, it is likely a reasonable one.

Consider the consequences of setting boundaries with people who are not accustom to you doing so. This will both help you prepare for potentially negative responses as well as enable you to assess the importance of the boundary versus the relationship. If a person overreacts, this does not detract from your rights and is an issue they need to resolve for themselves.

Plan ahead for someone that does not take well to your self-interest. Decide whether the relationship is worthwhile and if so how you will respond to any complaints. If the situation becomes problematic, avoid blame and provoking words. Maintain your stance but consider revisiting the discussion at a later, less emotional time. Be clear to set such time rather than let the problem linger.

Practice what you will say. Enlist help from a friend if you like and know that the first few times you try to set boundaries with people that it will probably feel discomforting. Yet, if someone is not respecting your person or space, be encouraged by the fact that you are acting in a healthy way to protect yourself and your interests. With time, most healthy people will adjust well.

Set up a time to talk that is conducive to listening, when the other party is not busy. Tell the person precisely what behavior is bothering you and why, and ask them politely to stop or offer a solution. A lengthy explanation is not necessary. Example: “When I go to the refrigerator and the food I plan to eat is gone I feel taken advantage of and then need to re-plan my meal. I will keep my food on the bottom two shelves to avoid confusion. Does that work for you?” This is concise, direct and avoids personal attack.

Evaluate if a written document is needed to set boundaries of a more serious nature or when communication fails. This may be useful when a family member berates you, for example. Outline the reasonable actions you expect from the person and the consequences for non-action, which may include terminating the relationship. Emphasize your commitment by mutually signing the agreement.

Enlist the help of a professional if you suffer from a lack of boundaries and have substantial difficulty in setting them. Some support groups may be able to help as well. If you feel badly it doesn't really matter if a person is only raiding your closet, likely many areas of your life are affected. Standing up for yourself is essential to a healthy sense of self-respect and peace of mind.

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