Updated January 26, 2021 at 12:45 p.m. ET
If there's one thing that a lot of folks are trying to figure out right now, it's how to set and establish boundaries with the people they're close to. Whether that means saying, "Sorry, I can't attend this gathering indoors because of COVID-19" or cutting ties with a family member, boundaries can look as different as the families they are part of — and setting and maintaining them can be really tricky.
If you're managing boundaries with a family of origin or you're establishing them with your chosen family, maintaining healthy boundaries is a way of taking care of your closest relationships. We asked two experts — writer and wellness consultant Alex Elle and therapist and author Andrea Bonior — to share their best techniques for making and maintaining boundaries.
Get really clear with yourself. Ask yourself: What do I need? 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. So get really honest with yourself about the things that you need and want. It could be 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.
Write it down. Elle 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. Leave anything that distracts from that outside the circle. "Have fun with it. Don't take yourself too seriously. Just give it a go," she says.
Boundaries can shift and change with you. 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."
When you're thinking of making a life-changing boundary, get comfortable and think through the things that might happen as a result. "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?"
For more about how to listen to yourself and create honest boundaries with those around you, listen to the full episode at the top of this page. And finally, good luck. We'll be out there trying to create and maintain boundaries right along with you, and it's not easy.
Special thanks to Sela Kerr and Callie Little for speaking with Life Kit for this episode.
The podcast version of this story was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.
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