Boundaries are critical in any healthy relationship because they allow you to: maintain your identity and self-respect, practice self-care, effectively communicate your needs, create time and space for healthy interactions, and understand your needs and set limits based on what's right for you. 

First step in boundary setting: overcoming ambivalence! Understanding what holds you back from imposing limits is necessary in order to actually get the guts to do it. “We might question whether boundaries are fair given another’s health condition, addiction, or psychiatric disorder. We might struggle with feelings of selfishness for limiting our sacrifice for others. Some people will get angry and resist your boundaries, or reject you when you limit what you do for them or give to them.” (Burn 2021)

To manage your inner conflict and feel better about setting limits, Dr. Burn suggests the following:

1. Reduce ambivalence by strengthening the thoughts that support your boundary.

Ask yourself:

  • “How does my helping interfere with accomplishing important personal, financial, professional, social or family goals?" 

  • “How is my help actually unhelpful? How does it interfere with others’ long-term health, well-being, competency, or autonomy? How does it  strain or harm relationships?”

  • “Why did I (or do I) feel the need to set these boundaries in the first place?”

 2. Strengthen your commitment to boundaries with affirmative self-statements.

For example:

  • “It’s their right to be displeased with my boundary but it’s my right to set limits around what I will and won’t do. After all, it’s my money, time, and effort."

  • “Their anger or displeasure is unfortunate and I wish it weren’t so, but I can handle it, and they’ll probably get over it.”

  • “I didn’t make this decision lightly and it’s the right thing for me to do even if it’s hard. I know the status quo can’t continue.”

  • “I’m not a bad or unhelpful person for setting this boundary. Being a good, helpful person sometimes means setting boundaries.”

  •  “I hope they’ll manage without my help but if they don’t, it’s their choice, not my fault.”

 3. If you feel distressed after setting a needed boundary, remind yourself that discomfort is a normal, but usually temporary, part of the process

It doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong to set a boundary. And your ambivalence will ease with the passage of time, especially if you follow the suggestions above.

4. When you set helping or giving boundaries, it’s normal to feel sad or even to grieve.

The very need to set boundaries can be a startling reminder of a loved one’s selfishness, immaturity, or willingness to take advantage of you. You might mourn the person you thought they were (or would become) when you agreed to help or give. You might grieve for the hope that your giving would strengthen your relationship or help a loved one make progress or that it would result in a loved one reciprocating. 

In reality, some boundaries end relationships or cause individuals to become distant. You might mourn that loss as well. But don’t mourn prematurely: If there was more to the relationship that you're giving and someone else’s taking, it should recover. Grief doesn’t usually mean you’re wrong in your limits—it just means you experienced a loss that will ease with time.

TIPS:

  • Know your limits and pinpoint exactly what your boundaries are. Defining them for yourself is critical. Speaking with a Confidant provider can help you identify what you need.

  • Be sure you can follow through with the boundaries you are setting.

  • Plan what you want to say and communicate your boundaries in a clear, assertive, concise, unemotional manner (write a script if necessary).

  • Don’t be apologetic in your communication.

  • Remain firm - expect resistance from those who have been controlling, abusing, manipulating, or testing you. Stay consistently strong in your communication.

  • Remind yourself that you have a right to self-care.

  • Don’t let anxiety, fear, or guilt detract you from setting and maintaining healthy limits

  • Understand that boundary setting is a process, especially if you are establishing them for the first time - be patient with the process.

  • Seek support from your Confidant team or trusted individuals that understand your goal. Eliminate people from your life that are toxic and seek to manipulate, abuse, or control you.

Adapted from:

Shawn Meghan Burn (2015). Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide to Overcoming Codependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Giving. Amazon. Also available as an e-book for Kindle, ibook, Kobu, and Nook readers.