How To Set Boundaries for Healthier RelationshipsNov 08, 2022
Q&A with Arda Ozdemir, Spiritual Mentor & Author of The Art of Becoming Unstuck
Q: Arda, from your perspective, why are boundaries important?
A: Boundaries are important to maintain our own individuality while creating beautiful, meaningful relationships with others. They are a key aspect of how we create a safe and respectful space for ourselves - physically, mentally and emotionally. Healthy boundaries communicate what we stand for and what we value. They help us be ourselves in our relationships and in the world. From this perspective, we can see why boundaries can really impact our happiness.
Q: So many people seem to be struggling with setting boundaries. Why do you think that is?
A: We set our boundaries based on our personal values. In other words, we want to create that safe space based on what’s important to us. However, many of us struggle in forming boundaries because we seek approval from others. Whether that's validation, appreciation, feeling good enough, being understood, seen or recognized, whenever we look outward for validation, we lose our connection with our own values. We start to live according to the other person’s values. When we are seeking our self-worth outside of ourselves, we often end up compromising our boundaries, with an underlying fear that if we don’t, we may risk being rejected in the relationship.
Q: So, are you saying that having “no boundaries” is a learned trait?
A: Yes. As we go through life, we often learn to compromise our boundaries as a coping mechanism to being accepted or approved of. After all, as humans, we have an innate desire to belong and to be loved. We feel inside that if we stand up for our personal space and live according to our own values, we’ll be in danger of being excommunicated from our relationships. The opposite is true, but we don’t dare to challenge it because of our parents’ directives of “comply with our expectations, you’ll be loved.”
Q: How do I know if I need to set boundaries in a relationship?
A: Ok, in your relationship, do you complain a lot? Do you resent your partner? Do you walk around with a long face? If you said yes to any of these questions, it’s more likely than not that you have compromised your boundaries. So, please pay attention to how you’re feeling in your relationships. Do you find yourself saying “Yes” when you really mean “No.”? Do you feel consistently burdened by the responsibilities you are assuming in a relationship? When we begin to feel trapped, overwhelmed, taken advantage of or manipulated in our relationships, it can often be a strong sign that we have little to no boundaries.
Q: So how do I set boundaries? Where do I begin?
A: You can set your boundaries by first identifying what your values are. Therefore, your first step is to reflect on what is important to you. What do you value? What do you stand for? What’s important to you in life? You can then reflect on where in your relationships these values are not being honored. With that, you can begin to take steps to openly communicate them in our relationships through clear “I-Need statements”.
This is not easy to do because it can feel like we are risking the relationship – what if they don’t like me? What if they get upset? However, by communicating what is important to us we help others see who we truly are, and also encourage them to do the same. As a result, everyone opens up to each other and follows their values to form healthier relationships.
Q: What's the most common mistake we make when we communicate boundaries?
A: Sometimes we can go from having no boundaries at all, to the opposite extreme. We are either all in or all out. For example, when we finally decide we need to set boundaries, we might start arbitrarily saying "No” to everything or communicating harshly. We may regurgitate a scripted boundary line we read online, inauthentically. All of these are just going through the motions for the sake of boundary setting. This often does not achieve the desired outcome, resulting in damaged relationships.
Instead, healthy boundaries should improve relationships - at least the relationships that are genuine.
How do we achieve this? Rather than swinging to the opposite extreme, there is a beautiful sweet spot in between - a more neutral state - which helps you set boundaries that others can respect, while communicating your values, feelings and needs openly. This will not only help achieve your desired outcome from the relationship dynamics, but it can strengthen relationships and even take them to a whole new level.