Social distancing has become a daily part of life…spacing out 6 feet, groups of 10 or less, wearing masks. While such practices can feel exhausting and isolating, they are designed to create a healthy sense of boundary between you and others for the sake of collective well-being. As you imagine when and how life will return to “normal,” you can apply the lessons of physical boundaries through COVID-19 to improve your emotional boundaries, as well.
Emotional boundaries are the structures you place in your relationships to let others know how you will and will not allow yourself to be treated. You set boundaries when you say yes or no, when you tell other people what you appreciate about how they are treating you and what has hurt you, when you decide how much time and energy you will invest, and when you choose to reduce your exposure to or end a relationship when you feel disrespected.
Relationship without boundaries results in you feeling exhausted, unappreciated, unseen, and taken advantage of. Lacking boundaries also results in attracting unhealthy, takers into your life repeatedly. So, how do you begin to create basic, healthy boundaries in your relationships?
6 Ways to Begin Healthy Boundaries:
- Identify 5 relationship deal breakers. What are 5 things that must be present for a relationship to be healthy for you? For example: honesty, mutual respect, kindness, authenticity, meaningful apologies. Choose according to your most important values. Notice in both your existing and new relationships whether your deal breakers are present. If they aren’t, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
- Give yourself permission to say no. Healthy relationship respects your no. Often, you will want to say yes in your relationships. However, it is not selfish to say no when you want or need to do so. It is healthy to say no when you sense another person consistently expecting more from you than you feel is healthy. If someone is guilting, shaming, or punishing you when you say no, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
- Decide how much time you will invest. You have many things to balance in life and limited time to give to any given relationship. You decide how much time feels healthy and respectful to give each relationship. For one relationship it might be an hour per week vs. an hour per day for another. If someone is consistently demanding more time than you believe is healthy to invest, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
- Give and expect reciprocity in relationship. Reciprocity means both people are both consistently giving and receiving in the relationship. There may be seasons where you are giving more or receiving more, but the overall tone of a healthy relationship is reciprocal. If you are consistently giving in a relationship and rarely receiving, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
- Say what you need and want. It is healthy for you to speak plainly about what is working for you and what is not. No one can read your mind no matter how long the relationship. If you don’t tell people what leaves you feeling valued or hurt, others won’t know how to be healthy in relationship with you. If someone continues hurtful behavior without improvement after it’s been addressed, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
- Give yourself permission to end unhealthy relationships. Sometimes relationships are unhealthy and do not improve. You can care about someone and at the same time acknowledge the relationship is not healthy for you. It is not mean or selfish to end relationships when you have been clear about what is not working and it continues to happen.
Thinking about boundaries can feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long run, creates healthy evaluation and adjustment in your relationships resulting in the life-giving connection you want and need in your life. As you are working through boundaries and other common life struggles, remember that many counselors are providing online services throughout the pandemic and accepting new clients including Journey Bravely.
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