The ABCs of Creating Healthy Boundaries

Few things are as critical to your wellbeing as the ability to create boundaries when necessary. This comes in our familial and personal lives, and in the professional arena. Feeling empowered to stand up for ourselves is essential, but a lot of people still struggle in this area.

Sometimes we encounter someone who is emotionally or verbally abusive, or relentlessly critical. That feeling of being unable to defend ourselves can be overwhelming, especially when we are children. And frequently, we internalize the experience and start to actually believe that we are bad or unworthy, or that we’ll never measure up.

These self-limiting beliefs can haunt us in our adult lives. But here’s the thing: we will never change other people, but we can change the way that we interact with others. As an adult, you are no longer powerless.

If you need to set boundaries with someone, take ownership of how you feel and what you’re going to do about it, instead of trying to make them out to be wrong or bad. You’re not asking them to change because YOU are the one who is changing.

Use these ABCs as a sweet reminder, the next time you need to set boundaries with someone:

A: Articulate what’s happening with you.

Tell the people with whom you need to set boundaries that you are making some shifts. Be clear that the way that things have been going no longer work for you. If you’re in a professional setting, frame it in terms of operating at your highest level.

B: Be direct.

Try something like, “When you do or say X, I feel Y, and Y is not okay for me anymore.”

And then state what you’re going to do about it. For example, if you’re dealing with a verbally abusive family member, try, “When I’m with you and you say something critical, I feel small and powerless, and that’s not okay for me anymore. So next time I come to visit, I’m going to stay at a friend’s house or at a hotel, and we’ll see how it goes. That way, if you’re unable to be kind and respectful, I can remove myself from the environment. This is what I need to do to take care of myself for now.”

C: Conclude with Compassion.

Let the person know you love them and want them in your life (assuming you do), and that you want to work toward a healthy relationship. If you’re in a business setting, say how much you value the connection, and that you’re excited about developing an environment where everyone can perform at his or her best.

When we allow ourselves to be disrespected, belittled, or abused, we’ve betrayed ourselves. We each have a responsibility to our own tender hearts, and our own precious gifts.

If a person is unable or unwilling to respect your boundaries, they don’t belong in your life. If it’s a close family member, I understand that can be brutal. But sometimes you have to love people from afar in order to love yourself well. Allowing yourself to be abused is too high a price to pay for any relationship. You might need the help and support of a therapist or coach as you’re learning to speak up when something is on your mind.

Maybe start your boundary setting with the people you trust more, first. Like anything else, being assertive gets easier with time and practice.

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