Everyone you’re close to has likely disappointed you or hurt your feelings in some way at some point. Maybe your significant other forgot your birthday, or your friend accidentally said something hurtful. Occasional hurt feelings in close relationships are to be expected, and once your loved ones realize they’ve disappointed you, they will likely apologize and promise to be better in the future.
But what happens when your loved ones continue the same behavior after you’ve told them multiple times that it hurts you? It can be easier to continually say, “It’s OK” and forgive them, but it can cause bitterness and resentment to grow within you. On the other hand, standing up to the other person and explaining that their behavior is unacceptable can seem too harsh. Navigating this grey area between acceptance of your loved ones and expecting more from them can be a delicate process, but it is necessary to learn the difference between occasional human mistakes and toxic behaviors.
When to Set Boundaries
The difference between an occasional mistake and potentially toxic behavior will become apparent over time. For example, if a friend shows up late to meet you, and they profusely apologize while explaining what made them late, that’s a forgivable mistake. But if that same friend continues to show up late, week after week, it can start to impact your schedule when you spend time waiting for them to arrive. That’s a valid reason for you to assert yourself and ask your friend to respect your time by managing their own schedule better.
Another common example of toxic behavior can be found in the workplace. Your boss might routinely ignore your input in meetings, or you may struggle with passive-aggressive co-workers. In 2016, 62% of workers interviewed reported that they had been treated rudely at least once a month while at work.
Working in a toxic environment or navigating a troubled relationship can be exhausting, but the stress can be lessened by establishing healthy boundaries for yourself.
How to Set Healthy Boundaries
The first step in setting boundaries is knowing your personal wants, needs and values. Boundaries should be set with your personal comfort level in mind. You might have both flexible and non-negotiable boundaries. For example, a flexible boundary could include your personal schedule; you may prefer to work until 5 p.m., but you can work until 5:30 if needed. A non-negotiable boundary relates to aspects of your life such as your personal health or your family’s needs. If someone in your life seems to be constantly infringing upon your boundaries, there are some steps to keep in mind.
Advice for Dealing with Difficult Relationships
When someone in your life continues to disrespect or hurt you, it can take a negative toll on your mental and emotional health. Beginning to start establishing boundaries for yourself can be a difficult process, whether you’re struggling with workplace tension or dealing with a negative friend. At Oakville Wellness Center, qualified therapists are available for individual and couples counseling to help you begin a better chapter in your life.
Some people believe that establishing boundaries means keeping people at a distance or pushing others away, but this isn’t the case. Dr. Dana Gionta says that establishing healthy boundaries means knowing your emotional, physical, and mental limits. When those limits are crossed, you may become uncomfortable or even resentful towards others.
Unhealthy boundaries can occur with anyone in your life, including your romantic partner, friends, and family members. Learning about the common signs of unhealthy boundaries can help you recognize relationships in your own life that may need healthy boundaries established.
Boundaries in Romantic Relationships
Boundaries can sometimes be hard to discern in romantic relationship because partners are inclined to share not only tangible items with each other, but also secrets, fears, and other personal emotions. Counselor Gary Gilles says that healthy boundaries should distinguish the responsibilities of both partners. He states that each person is responsible for:
Healthy boundaries foster better communication and responsibility for both you and your partner. But sometimes emotions can cloud your judgment and lead to unhealthy boundaries. Some common boundary infractions in relationships can include:
Boundaries in Friendships
Since each one of your friendships differ, your boundaries will likely vary as well. People will naturally let their closest friends know more about them, but be more guarded when it comes to new friends. Healthy boundaries between friends should include:
Have you ever had a friend who never showed up on time, or a friend that talked about you behind your back? These are common boundary violations that can occur in both old and new friendships. Other unhealthy boundaries can include:
Boundaries With Parents
As you grow older, boundaries between you and your parents are going to change. Whether you’re just about to move out of your parent’s house or if you’ve been living independently for years, stay tuned to signs of unhealthy boundaries such as:
How to Begin Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Standing up for yourself and talking to others about your limits is a challenging process. If talking about all of your boundaries sounds too overwhelming, that’s OK. Dr. Gionta recommends starting to practice being assertive in small ways first. You could begin by telling a friend “no” if you don’t want to do something. Below are some more steps you can take in establishing healthy boundaries.
It can also be helpful to seek support if you feel defeated by unhealthy boundaries. You can start by taking this relationship assessment created by Oakville Wellness Center to gauge your relationship health. If your results concern you, or if you just need support, Oakville Wellness Center has well-qualified therapists to help you develop the skills and confidence needed to start establishing healthy boundaries.