How to Set Better Emotional Boundaries and Why they are so Important for Healing

If you want people to respect your boundaries, you need to first set them yourself.

Understanding Emotional Boundaries

Imagine your emotional boundaries as a protective bubble. This bubble keeps your emotions in and other people’s emotions out. 

Having emotional boundaries gives you the ability to witness others emotions without taking their emotions personally (into your bubble) or as your responsibility to react to, fix, or solve. Your emotional boundaries enable you to differentiate where your emotions end and other person’s emotions begin. 

When we have unclear emotional boundaries that we have not even set for ourselves, others emotions flood into our safe space. As a result, we become highly reactive to not only other’s emotions, but also our own. 

Emotional Reactivity can look like this:

  • Taking their emotions as our own
  • Doing whatever you can to reduce their anger, frustration, anxiety…even if those actions are completely opposite to our core nature.
  • Reacting very negatively to even any hint of others’ disapproval, disagreement, or frustration
  • Having difficulty maintaining your own sense of emotional reality when someone else is feeling a diffirent emotion
  • Becoming defensive or angry when others don’t feel the same way as you

Mistakes while Setting Emotional Boundaries

Sometimes we think we’ve set a boundary, but all we’ve actually done is call someone out on their bad behaviour.

Some examples setting healthy emotional boundaries:

“I’m tired of you treating me like a fool” is not a boundary
This is a healthy boundary: “I appreciate your concern but this is my decision”

“It’s so inconvenient when you call me at work” is not a boundary
This is a healthy boundary: “if you call me while I’m at work I won’t be able to pick up”

Honest truth is this, that you can’t control another person’s actions. This is why the focus of a healthy emotional boundary should be about *you* and *your* behaviour.

Most of us recognise that emotional boundaries are necessary for having healthy relationships but there is still some confusion about how to successfully set them. Here are five things people tend to get wrong about boundaries:

1. Sugar-Coating and Over-explaining

Being too nice when setting emotional boundaries can backfire. People often ‘sugar-coat’ their boundaries to avoid confrontation or to avoid hurting other people. But this behavior makes boundaries unclear and can leave people feeling confused. Make your boundaries as clear as you possibly can and keep them to the point, with no over-explaining. For example, “Thank you for inviting me, but I need some time to myself tonight.” People will cross our boundaries, because that is what they do, but sometimes it’s actually because we haven’t been clear enough. When it comes to setting boundaries, clear is kind.

2. Boundaries can’t be Questions

When communicating our boundaries, they should be communicated as statements, not as questions. Stick to the facts and use statements like “I will”, “I’m not”, “I can’t” or “I need”.
Examples: “I’m not comfortable with you making jokes about my hair.” or “I need to sleep early tonight, so you’ll can carry on.” or “I will not be able to join you tonight.”
If you ask a question, you’re more likely to get into a debate. We want to set boundaries, and not get even more agitated with debates.

3. Not being Clear about the Result

Whenever our emotional boundary is crossed, we get angry but we don’t know what to do or say beyond that. This results in the violation getting repeated. So when setting boundaries, its neccessary to clearly state the action you will take if the boundary isn’t respected.
Example, “If you call me again when I’m at work I won’t answer the phone.” or “If you make jokes about my hair again, I will walk away.”
This leaves no room for doubt about your boundaries.

4. Ignoring your body’s discomfort

People often struggle to even decide where to set their boundaries. Noticing how you feel in your body is the first sign you need to set a boundary.. For example, when a friend asks you if she can borrow some precious jewellery, how do you feel? Is there tightness in your chest and some any resentment bubbling up? How about when a co-worker asks if you can stay late to help them, do you feel excitement and spaciousness or do you feel uncomfortable, irritated and depleted?
When you listen to what your body it will allow you to choose what feels right for you not for other’s.

5. When you forget your own boundaries 

The most important emotional boundaries we will ever set are the ones we set with ourselves. Setting boundaries around the way we are with our self talk, our work, our health, our money or our time.
Setting a boundary with yourself might sound like “I will not eat when I’m emotional as a way to make myself feel better” or “I will not use words like ‘ugly’ or ‘horrible’ to describe how I look” or “I will stop using screens at 8pm”.
Honouring the boundaries we set for ourselves can be a powerful act of selflove and help to improve our self-esteem.

Prioritize Your Emotions

When we start to strengthen our emotional boundaries, we regain a sense of balance in our lives. Small emotional differences between ourselves and others no longer provoke intense reactions within us. We begin to experience more spaciousness, and in that spaciousness, we begin to prioritize our own emotions⁠—many of us for the first time ever!

How to Begin Setting Emotional Boundaries

Make a promise to yourself that you will put your own identity, needs, feelings and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries begin when you start believing that you are OK just the way you are. Commit to let go of the need to fix others or for taking responsibility for others choices. Let go of the need to saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed. Stop changing yourself to be liked, or depending on others approval.

Start by making a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Visualize yourself setting them and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them.

Remember, this is a process.

Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and experience success before taking on more challenging boundaries.

Emotional Boundaries to begin with:

  1. Start Say no – to tasks you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do.
  2. Start Say yes – to accepting help when you need it.
  3. Say thank you with no apology, regret or shame.
  4. Outsource or delegate tasks.
  5. Set a time boundary – don’t overcommit.
  6. Ask for space – we all need our space to simply be.
  7. Speak up immediately when you feel uncomfortable with mistreatment or disrespect.
  8. Honor yourself by choosing what you want and putting yourself first.
  9. Ditch the guilt and responsibility for others. Only you are your responsibility.

Ditch the Guilt!

Sometimes, when you are not solving others problems and have released yourself from living that way, it can feel alien. It can bring about a feeling of guilt for putting your emotions first. A part of you might struggle to access what you want to do or feel, because you’re so accustomed to living on others’ emotional terms.

Don’t worry this discomfort is a positive sign. It’s a sign that you’re finally growing emotionally.

Believe me, no healing process comes without its growing pains!

The key to setting healthy emotional boundaries is practice. You are strengthening your boundary-setting muscle, and every time you choose a new way of reacting, that muscle gets stronger.

We are NOT Robots

Understand that complete emotional detachment is not the goal of emotional boundaries. We’re not robots. It’s normal to feel a little sad when your loved ones feel sad, or to be troubled by a loved one’s struggles. The problem arises when their emotions start dominating your own. We want to stir clear of emotional reactivity and instead operate from a space of spaciousness and calm.

Emotional Boundaries are about finding a middle ground: ⁠a space where we can feel and respond lovingly to others emotions without letting those emotions dictate our own realities.

The recovering people pleaser in me works on this everyday. Like I said, its a process and imperative to my healing. This is why I stay committed to it.

💭❓Will you?

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12 thoughts on “How to Set Better Emotional Boundaries and Why they are so Important for Healing

  1. Cindy Ward

    It seems that every time I am at a cross roads I get your email and breathe a sigh of relief. Thank you so much!!

      1. 😊. Thank you. I do. It all starts with me. This was always encouraged with my Buddhist practice, but I rarely achieved it, always getting side tracked by chanting for my husband, son, grandchildren etc. I finally worked at this with reiki therapy, my therapist was wonderful. It’s a journey that I am appreciating.

      2. 😊. Thank you. I do. It all starts with me. This was always encouraged with my Buddhist practice, but I rarely achieved it, always getting side tracked by chanting for my husband, son, grandchildren etc. I finally worked at this with reiki therapy, my therapist was wonderful. It’s a journey that I am appreciating.

  2. Pingback: 9 Essential Self-Care Tips to Take Better Care of Yourself – *Positive Provocations*

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