When you need to set boundaries with someone close to you, use calm, assertive language to discuss the boundary clearly and in advance, to give the person a head’s up that things will be changing.
Practice and rehearse what you are going to say and how you are going to negotiate the boundary with the other person.
When you do speak to them timing is important, so choose an emotionally neutral time to tell them. It is also helpful to use a calming Polyvagal body practice before you begin the conversation.
Use ‘I’ language and avoid ‘you’ language, for example:
- I care about our relationship, and the ways that I will be dealing with this differently are …
- I am making some changes that are important to me around … so in the future I will be …
- In the future I would like to avoid talking about …
- I don’t want to continue to feel … if this happens again, I will need to …
- I understand that this is something you may not be aware of, but when you vent I feel …
- I am making some changes, so I may not always be available at the exact time when you want to talk about …
Learning to say ‘no’ can be very challenging. The challenge lies in how to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty or feeling that you are letting people down. It is helpful to go to the people in your life, that you spend the most time with and that you do the most for, and to let them know:
“I’ve decided to make … a priority. So I wanted to let you know in advance that I am going to be a lot less available.
“I’ve decided to focus on … so that means I’m going to be saying ‘no’ a lot more often and I just want you to know this upfront, so that you understand and can make alternative arrangements.”
Once the boundary has been set, YOU will need to maintain the boundary with consistency, so you will need to continue to respond differently in the future even if they don’t. This will be the hardest part, as it is easier to fall back into old habits and patterns.
As you set boundaries and consistently uphold them with others, you may encounter resistance, confusion, opposition, or anger. People may say “You’ve changed” and this may make you feel uncomfortable. You may feel doubt, fear or guilt. The relationship that emerges after you’ve set a boundary might not be anything like it was before, but it will be more honest, healthy and sustainable.
If the other person breaks the boundary you have discussed then you can choose to:
- end the conversation every time (“I’m not comfortable discussing this.”)
- change the topic every time (“I’d prefer to talk about something else.”)
- leave the room/walk away every time (You may consider distancing yourself and lessening contact. We all have our limits and it’s okay to honour those.)
Many people will not change and it may be possible that you have to discontinue contact and take yourself out of the relationship completely, which is the most extreme form of boundary.