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How to Establish Healthy Boundaries for Emotional Health

This is an excerpt from Total Body Beautiful by Andrea Orbeck,Desi Bartlett & Nicole Stuart.

One of the most important ways to protect your emotional health is by creating healthy boundaries. When you are clear about your intentions and what is OK and what is not OK, it makes saying yes or no much easier. For example, if you receive an invitation to an event that conflicts with family or exercise time, it is common for you to feel obligated to say yes. The reasons behind this can be anything from wanting to be liked to feeling rude if you decline the invitation. There can also be a lot of discomfort around saying the word no. Women are often taught that there has to be an explanation after the word no, as if it were not a complete answer in itself. It takes some practice to get comfortable with saying the word no, and there can be an uncomfortable silence while the person with whom you are speaking waits for an explanation. The shorter and more succinct the answer, the easier it can be to set clear boundaries. For example, “No, I am not available that day,” without an apology, is a very clear answer that allows you to stay in your power and protect your time and energy.

In parenting books and guides, there are long discussions about healthy boundaries and the importance of maintaining them with your children. Creating a healthy line between being a parent and being a friend is important so that children know that their parents are protectors before being their friends. However, there is much less discussion about how to set healthy boundaries as adults with friends or with adult family members. Friends and family are usually well intentioned when asking for guidance or assistance, but chances are you know at least one person who is going to want to chat for an hour (or more). Learning to navigate relationships and to guard your own time is not something that is commonly taught in school but rather something that comes with life experience.

Having healthy boundaries can become a bit easier with age. When the friend who loves to chat for an hour calls, learning to answer the phone and say, “Hi, beautiful! I have five minutes to chat. Would it be better if I call you tomorrow?” gets easier with practice. The people who respect healthy boundaries will let you know if they can abbreviate the conversation or if they need more time and are OK with working around your schedule. The ones who do not respect your time might be called “energy vampires.”

An energy vampire is someone who needs to process all their emotions when and how they feel like it. It does not matter whether the person that they are reaching out to has time, energy, or resources to support the energy vampire. They will talk your ear off and go through multiple scenarios of what might happen in the future. It can feel like they are draining the life right out of you. In fact, it is common to feel incredibly sleepy after an encounter with an energy vampire. It can feel like your emotional system has been sucked dry, and it is common for your body and mind to cry out for rest to recharge.

There is a healthy balance that can be struck between being overly available and being emotionally unattached from others. Learning to put your own needs and the needs of your family first can help to create healthy boundaries. Making time for healthy practices, including workouts, can feel a little indulgent at times, but exercising can also help you to stay strong, not only physically but emotionally. Filling your own cup is important before you can help to fill another’s. Setting healthy boundaries can be challenging for many people, however; here are some suggestions for easing into this practice.

  • Identify the situations that call for a healthy boundary (e.g., your mother-in-law announced that she is visiting for the holidays).
  • Understand why this boundary is important to you (e.g., you already have your own trip planned).
  • Make a plan for how you will say no (e.g., role play or write out the words that you plan to say—for example, “We will be traveling on those dates”).
  • Make a plan for how you will hold steady (e.g., if your mother-in-law says, “I really want to see the grandkids,” it is OK to say something like, “We would love to see you after January 3”).
  • Do not apologize, and do not go back and change your answer to yes.
  • If you feel nervous, have your spouse or best friend give you a pep talk before a boundary-setting conversation or give you validation after you have set a healthy boundary.
  • Keep track of each time that you practice setting healthy boundaries and know that like working out, it gets easier as you hone your new skill.
More Excerpts From Total Body Beautiful

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