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3 Ways You Can Start Setting Boundaries (Better)

Setting and maintaining boundaries is an essential part of our self-care.

It is also one of the toughest self-care practices to do if you have trouble saying no.

Boundaries are the limits and expectations we set to keep ourselves safe, as well as what we need to protect our sense of balance. Our boundaries are important in your relationships with others and with your relationship with yourself.

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When we do not have boundaries in place, we can risk over-extending ourselves.

There are many reasons why we feel the need to always say yes, offer more help, and work until the wee hours of the night — reasons like feeling guilty, wanting to be perfect, or defining yourself through your working role just to name a few.

Sometimes we’re not sure what to say to state what our boundaries are, and even more often we’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or ruining relationships by setting a boundary. (People pleasing falls right in this category.)

To help you strengthen your ability to set boundaries, here are 3 ways you can begin:

“Yes-No-Yes” Approach

The Yes-No-Yes approach is a favorite of mine — it offers you a chance to recognize the needs of the other person, while clearly stating what your boundary is. Here’s an example of what this approach looks like:

Taylor was asked by her friend, Logan, to babysit her kids for the second time this week. Taylor needs a break —  she’s pretty tired and would like to do something else other than babysit. Here’s how Taylor used “yes-no-yes” to set this boundary.

“Hey Logan, I totally understand you need help with childcare. I am not available tonight to babysit, but I know a childcare service that could be helpful. Can I share it with you?”

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Let’s break down this approach in 3 steps:

    1. Start by saying “yes” by saying something true, engaging and supportive to acknowledge the request. In the example, Taylor let Logan know that she understood her request.
    2. Clearly state your “no” by sharing what your boundary is. There’s no doubt what Taylor’s boundary is: she is unavailable to help tonight.
    3. Close by following up with another “yes” that is true, could be helpful and/or offers to help at another time. Taylor offered to refer Logan to a service to help with her childcare needs.

With the Yes-No-Yes approach, you are clearly stating your boundary in an assertive and supportive way. Here are a few other sayings  that could be helpful for each of the 3 steps:

Start by saying:

  • “Thank you for thinking of me for this opportunity . . .”
  • “I appreciate your thoughtfulness . . .”
  • “This sounds like a great idea . . .”

Clearly state your boundary by saying:

  • “I am going to pass on this . . .”
  • “Unfortunately, I will not be able to . . .”
  • “No, I’m not a good fit for this . . .”
  • “This falls outside of what I can do . . .”

Follow up with:

  • “I know someone/something who is a better fit for this . . .”
  • “Let’s reconnect at a different time . . .”
  • “Thank you for your consideration . . .”

For this boundary setting approach, it’s important that with EVERY one of the steps you are truthful — this approach encourages you to state your boundaries in an honest and direct way.

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The “Delayed” No

There may be times when you are not sure if you want to immediately say “yes” to a task or an opportunity. It’s okay to give yourself some time and space to make a decision. If you are unclear, try the “delayed” no approach to continue to set a boundary for yourself.

  1. Ask if what you are being asked to do is urgent or time-sensitive.
  2. If it is not, request some time to think it over.
  3. Ask questions to receive more information and if applicable, negotiate what you would like to do.
  4. Choose whether or not to take on the task.

Here’s an example:

Lee was asked by his colleague, Jay, to help him plan a party next week. Lee isn’t sure if that’s how he wants to spend his time next week. Here’s Lee’s delayed no:

“Jay, how soon do you need to know if I can help with this? Cool, I can let you know on Wednesday?”

“What all would you need help with? Could I bring over some chips and cupcakes instead? Great!”

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This approach is helpful you want to:

  • Practice pausing before just saying yes
  • If you need more information and,
  • If there is room to bargain/negotiate how you would like to be helpful

The “Tactful” No

There will be times when “just saying no” is the best and most appropriate way to set a boundary. Like the approaches mentioned before, there are ways to set boundaries AND preserve relationships. This approach is direct and speaks to if your boundaries have been crossed.

Let’s take a look at this example:

Cory feels irritated — his partner, Sam, repeatedly nags him when they have a disagreement. Cory has said more than once that he needs time to cool off when he’s angry and he makes sure to let Sam know when he will return. Yet, Sam continues to push for Cory to begin talking about his feelings right away. Here’s how Cory uses a tactful no:

“Sam, this isn’t the first time you have wanted to talk right away. This is not the best way for me to handle this. I need a few minutes. It really frustrates me when you push me to talk. Please, stop.”

The tactful no addresses the problem and highlights the boundary that has been crossed. It reiterates that boundary, in addition to how you’re feeling.

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This approach is helpful for our relationships and friendships, when our boundaries are not always noticed or when our boundaries are pushed. This approach helps us maintain boundaries and holds our loved ones accountable. It helps to be mindful of how you react and how you respond when using this approach.

Here are a couple of journaling prompts to reflect on how you set boundaries:

  • How do you know if your boundary is being crossed?
  • Why are your boundaries important to you?
  • Which boundary of yours do you want to protect better? Which approach do you think would best help do this?

For more journaling ideas on how to set boundaries, check out our guided self-care journal, Self Explore, Self Restore.

How do you set boundaries?

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