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“Healthy boundaries serve as a strong and leak-proof container for your essence.”
-Hiro Boga, intuitive healer and author

Healthy personal boundaries are essential for a meaningful, well-lived life. They promote health, inner peace, safety, confidence and positive relationships.  They define your identity and protect you from violators and the control of others. On the other hand, ineffective boundaries create confusing, unhappy relationships; cause a loss of respect and control; and open the door to victimization.

At New Leaf Center, we often work with individuals whose boundaries have been repeatedly violated by others in their childhood; so they have poor models for healthy boundary-setting. Thus, we teach clients how to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with themselves and others, and we offer a simple model for communicating them.

The first step is to identify important boundaries in your life, think through each boundary and ask yourself the following questions about each one:

  • Why is it important for me to set this boundary?
  • How will I feel later if I don’t set this boundary?
  • What do I gain by not setting the boundary?
  • What will be the consequences for not setting this boundary?
  • What will be the reward for setting this boundary?

Once you have decided that you need to set a boundary with someone based on the answers to these five questions, follow these four steps to set the boundary.

  1. Identify the behavior that is upsetting, offensive or not within your value system.
  2. Identify the feelings that the behavior elicits in you.
  3. State a preference if you’re trying to educate someone about a requested change or a need if you’re feeling strongly about the desired change. Focus on the solution and not the problem. What would you like to see that person do or not do in the future?
  4. Establish consequences should the behavior persist. Only give consequences you are willing to enforce.

There’s a simple way to communicate boundaries once you’ve followed these steps to setting them, and it also follows a four-step process:

  1. When I see or hear you __________________ (state the specific behavior),
  2. I feel ________________(angry, annoyed, agitated, sad, hurt, anxious, betrayed, etc.)
  3. So I would prefer that you _______________ (what you would like the person to say and/or do) or I need you to ______________ (state the direct request for change in the person’s words and/or actions).

Should the individual violate the same boundary again after you’ve communicated your preference or need in this manner, then you will need to add the fourth step once you’ve reminded them of your original request as stated above:

  1. The next time you _____________ (do the upsetting or offensive behavior), I will ___________ (specific action of self-care you’re willing to implement and maintain).

While this process is simple, it is not easy; so New Leaf Center periodically offers a one-day workshop that helps clients practice these boundary-setting exercises. In addition, the workshops explore types of boundaries and how they function, indicators of healthy versus unhealthy boundaries, signs of damaged boundaries, blocks to establishing healthy boundaries, and more. Visit our Workshops and Special Programs for details on Setting Limits, Saying No – A Guide to Better Boundaries.

Jackie MacKay, M.A., LMHC, NCC, CSAT