Set boundaries and stick to them with this guide : Life Kit Maintaining healthy boundaries is a way of taking care of your closest relationships, but setting those boundaries with family can be hard. The process starts with asking yourself what you need.

How to set boundaries with family — and stick to them

How to set boundaries with family — and stick to them

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Cha Pornea for NPR
Setting boundaries.
Cha Pornea for NPR

Setting boundaries with loved ones can be hard to do, and even harder to stick with. Whether it's saying no to a night out with friends or cutting ties with a member of your family, maintaining healthy boundaries is a way of taking care of yourself and your closest relationships.

Writer and wellness consultant Alex Elle and therapist and author Andrea Bonior share their best techniques for making and maintaining boundaries.

Identify your needs and write them down

Trusting yourself to know what boundaries you need can be tricky sometimes, especially if you weren't raised with a lot of models for what healthy boundaries look like. Get honest about the things you need and want for your relationships and write them down. You could want more independence from your parents or a more positive relationship with a sibling.

"Lean in," Elle says. "You can be your own inner expert. You have the power to do that." Prioritizing your own needs and wants is an important step to inform the boundaries you create.

She recommends an exercise called the boundary circle, where you draw a circle on a page. Inside the circle, write down the things you need in order to be seen, supported and heard. On the outside of the circle, leave anything that distracts from that outside of the circle.

"Have fun with it," Elle says. "Don't take yourself too seriously. Just give it a go."

Voice your boundaries clearly

When you create a boundary, you're drawing clear lines for the behavior you'll tolerate. That can be as low-key as saying, "Hey, please don't spoil this series for me," if you just started a TV series. Or it can be as monumental as saying, "I won't be coming to this family celebration if you continue to critique my body in that way."

You decide what your boundaries are, so they can be flexible. "Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships, and sometimes for healthier relationships with ourselves," Elle says. "Everyone isn't going to be able to journey with us forever. And actually, that can be our biggest blessing. So let's get clear about who we need by our side and, maybe, who we don't need right now."

Get real about what it means to set a life-changing boundary

"It does take some extra strength and extra planning to say, you know, I'm going to have some fallout from this, but I believe in what I'm doing enough to know that it's the right thing," Bonior says. "I believe enough to pay the price of some discomfort."

She suggests asking yourself a few important questions:

  • Am I willing to actually stop speaking to this person after multiple warnings when they have broken my boundaries?
  • Am I willing to take the steps that I need to keep me and my family safe?

Sometimes, doing the right thing for you can mean some painful decisions. But, ultimately, you're taking care of yourself and the healthy relationships you have.

Special thanks to Sela Kerr and Callie Little for speaking with Life Kit for this episode.

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The podcast version of this story was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.

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