1. Know yourself
Boundaries are a reflection of your relationship with yourself. If you have weak boundaries, you’re broadcasting to the world that you have no right to your own time or doing what makes you happy. Being clear about your boundaries signals your self-respect and your values.
Make some time to sit down and work out exactly what those values are. Where are your limits? What is acceptable to you? Do you find parties and other people exhausting or energizing? What feels good, and what leaves you feeling depleted?
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When you’re clear about your boundaries, let people know what is and isn’t acceptable. You can be polite but firm in what you will and will not accept. You don’t need to explain or give reasons, but you do need to be direct. If you don’t like musicals or can’t work late or prefer small dinner dates to parties, then say so!
3. Be consistent
Having set and communicated your boundaries, you need to maintain them. Don’t send mixed messages by saying one thing and doing another. If you don’t take personal calls at the office, don’t answer your phone until after work hours. It’s human nature to test boundaries, so send a clear message that you’re serious about your boundaries.
4. Don’t feel guilty
You have a perfect right to have healthy boundaries. Guilt is a corrosive emotion that won’t do you any favors if you give into it. Acknowledge that guilt is a consequence of the social conditioning to be ‘unselfish’ and move on. There’s nothing selfish about having boundaries. And if people try to make you feel guilty for not doing what they want, see that behavior for what it is. Bullying, plain and simple.
5. Write your script
You might find setting boundaries for yourself easier if you prepare for push-back and you have a script of polite but firm responses. Apart from a simple ‘no,’ there are many other handy phrases you can have ready. For example, “No, I can’t on that day,” “I already committed,” “I’m not available,” or if they’re pushy, “I’m afraid I’m not interested.” You can be polite but firm. And you don’t need an excuse or a lengthy explanation. Perfect the art of a polite refusal, and you’ll find it much easier to be confident in maintaining your boundaries.