The holidays are a great time to catch up with friends and family that you haven’t seen during the semester. But it can be hard to balance catching up with people and recharging your own social battery. Setting boundaries and sticking to them can feel challenging and maybe even selfish, but it’s actually a crucial part of maintaining healthy relationships. Whether you’re setting a boundary with a friend, family member or significant other, each can look a little different. Here’s some of the basics to help take away some of the stress of returning home for the holidays.
What Are Boundaries?
At the most basic level, boundaries are essentially clearly communicated expectations for how you’d like others to treat you and behave around you. They’re an indication of the behaviors that you’re willing or unwilling to accept from others. While this may feel a bit harsh, pushy or even selfish, boundaries are a form of self-care, self-respect and relationship care. After all, the relationship you have with yourself affects the ones you have with other people. Why not try to make it a good one?
How to Get Started
One of the first questions you’ll want to ask yourself is what your needs are in a particular relationship. Maybe you need space for more independence from your parents. Maybe you need some alone time away from friends to just relax and do some self-care, or maybe you need people in your life to respect your decisions — especially if your decision is saying no to someone or something. No matter the situation, it’s important to remember that your needs are important, and it’s okay to communicate them to the people in your life. Communicating your own needs can also show others that they are free to do the same with you, which could encourage mutual respect of boundaries.
Being honest with yourself about what you need helps prioritize a healthy relationship with yourself which is crucial in creating healthy relationships with others. If you’re struggling to understand your needs, try asking yourself these questions: Am I seen? Am I supported? Am I heard? Think of what you need to be able to answer “yes” to these questions, and try creating boundaries based on those needs.
Here’s where you can learn more about being honest with yourself in setting boundaries.
Boundaries can change as you do. They should be firm to ensure that your needs are being met, but can change and be flexible too. As you change and assess the situation, it’s absolutely okay to shift boundaries accordingly. Boundaries should remain realistic to what feels tolerable to you.
Be firm, but kind. There’s a difference between communicating your needs with a direct, assertive tone and just being rude. The first is a great way to set a boundary with someone who isn’t respectful of you and your needs, while the other is not. Try to avoid projecting anger or defensiveness, especially when setting a boundary with someone who isn’t the most receptive to it in the first place.
Setting boundaries gets easier with practice. It can be daunting at first, but like most things it gets easier the more you do it. Practice, practice, practice! If you feel like you’re struggling, then try starting with something smaller until you’re more comfortable. It can be as simple as practicing saying “no” in the mirror.
Be willing to walk away. Though it may not come to this extreme, it’s still important to recognize when it may be time to walk away — even temporarily — and to prepare yourself to do just that. Walking away from a toxic person or situation can be difficult, especially when you care deeply. But remember that you do not have to explain yourself, and you do not owe any apologies for choosing to do what’s best for your wellbeing.
What Boundaries Might Sound Like
“Let me think about this, and then I’ll get back to you.”
“I know I said yes, but I hadn’t considered things fully so I have to say no this time.”
“I am putting my needs first and do not want to be made to feel guilty for that.”
“I’m confident in my decisions, and I’d like for you to respect them.”
“My feelings are equally as important as yours.”
“I’d prefer not to talk about that and will not continue a conversation if this continues.”
As tough as it can be to set boundaries, it gets easier with practice. Clearly communicating your needs — and listening to the needs that others express to you — can strengthen the relationships in your life. Everyone deserves to be seen, supported and heard.
How are you finding balance in your relationships? Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, and let us know!