In a world that constantly demands our attention and energy, creating and maintaining Healthy Boundaries is not just an option, but a necessity. Melissa Urban, also known as the “Boundary Lady”, and co-founder of the Whole 30, delves into this essential life skill in her book, “The Book of Boundaries: Set the Limit That Will Set You Free.” Let’s explore how embracing boundaries can help you lead a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Boundaries are clear limits that you place on HOW you ALLOW people to engage with you. They are designed to keep you Safe, Healthy and Improve Your Relationships. Establishing a boundary is not about pushing people away or building a brick wall, but rather saying, “I want you in my life if you can engage with me around this limit, which I need for my own mental health, and energy.” The best boundaries are flexible, not rigid, where are you can go back and later revise if circumstances change.
In addition, boundaries are not about controlling other people and telling them what to do. Instead, they are about telling people what YOU Will Do to keep yourself safe and healthy. Your boundary is not dependent on someone else. It is only dependent on what YOU ARE WILLING and able to do.
Simple Truth – It’s not about them. It’s about you.
Think of boundaries as a gift – a guide to the best relationships where there is mutual respect for each other’s limits.
Signs You Need a Boundary
Pay attention to how your body feels to understand when you might need to set boundaries in your relationships. When stress hits, you might feel it in your head, heart, stomach, back, or shoulders.
If being around someone makes you feel stressed or worried, this is a sign that a boundary could help. Feeling worse about yourself after spending time with certain people is another clue. If you’re not sure where you stand with someone, it might be a good time to set a healthy limit. Melissa Urban recommends checking in with yourself to see where you need boundaries for your peace of mind.
Challenging Societal Norms
Women, often conditioned to prioritize others over themselves, may struggle with setting boundaries. Often, as young girls watching our mothers, we are taught to not have needs and to make sure others are comfortable at our own expense. As women, many believe our mission is to serve.
In addition, as women we also have been conditioned to keep ourselves small and not to have our own needs. Most women are not taught boundaries and have had boundaries modeled to them as children. Breaking free from societal norms, Melissa Urban encourages embracing healthy boundaries as a way to prioritize mental health without guilt.
Types of Boundaries
- PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES – Involve your body and personal space.
- EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES – Involve thoughts, feelings and perceptions
- MENTAL BOUNDARIES – Involve beliefs, values and opinions
- TIME BOUNDARIES – Involve length of time and time spent
- INTERNAL BOUNDARIES – Involve boundaries between you and yourself – Self-regulation, Self-Compassion, Self-Worth
3 Steps to Boundaries
- 1. IDENTIFY : Recognize when you need a boundary. Listen to your feelings of dread, anxiety or resentment.
- 2. SET : Establish the boundary with kindness and clarity. Communicate what you need for your well-being.
- 3. HOLD : Uphold your boundary, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Step 1 -Identifying and Being Aware
The first step is knowing and acknowledging that you actually need a boundary. Your needs matter. Take a pause and check in with yourself to ask – what to do I need in this moment to feel safe and comfortable? Where in your life do you have a sense of dread, anxiety, or resentment around a person, or even a conversation topic.
Have you heard the term “Energy Leakage“? Everything we do as humans is an energetic exchange – whether it be directly interacting with others, scrolling through Facebook, looking at pictures of an ex-boyfriend etc… This is all energy. There are times when you may feel excited, recharged or invigorated after visiting or talking to someone. Then there are occasions when you feel frustrated, depleted or just plain sad.
So here’s the thing – if you are giving more energy then you are receiving, that is energy leakage. You may not even realize this is happening, but you are left feeling drained after an interaction. Be attentive where your energy is going.
Step 2 – Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries can be difficult and uncomfortable, but living without them is equally challenging. We often toy with internal vs external conflict. It is hard to express our needs and disappoint others. However, what you were doing now – swallowing your feelings and putting everyone else’s needs above yourself or taking on more than you are able to do – is also uncomfortable.
When you’re about to set a boundary get clear on what your limit is and which part of this interaction is causing stress. Next think, “I’m going to set this boundary. Is this a boundary I can hold and follow through with?”
Then explain and have a conversation about what you need from the person you are interacting with. The key word here is – be clear. The foundation of Melissa Urban’s Boundary Practice is borrowed from Brene Brown who says, “clear is kind.” Share your feelings and needs seriously, steering clear of making hints or using laughter to diminish them.
Step 3 – Holding Boundaries
Remember when you are holding a boundary and advocating for your own needs, you’re not saying “Only me”. You’re saying “Me too” Someone may be mad about your boundary. But it’s not your job to fix their feelings.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to set and hold a boundary, but it is also uncomfortable to continue to live in the unhappiness. Choose an outer conflict instead of always choosing inner conflict. Prioritize your needs without guilt or pressure. And the good news is, the more you hold a boundary, the more natural it will feel.
Expanding Your Life Through Boundaries
Contrary to common belief, a healthy boundary practice doesn’t limit your life; it expands it. By eliminating stress, resentment, and anxiety, you create room for self-care and deeper connections. Remember, the goal is not to build walls but to enhance relationships by clearly expressing your needs.
Melissa Urban emphasizes the importance of expressing your needs kindly yet clearly. Try using the Green-Yellow-Red language approach – starting with the gentlest language possible (Green), progressing to more direct communication (Yellow), and, if necessary, firmly asserting your boundary (Red).
GREEN language is the kindest language possible. You were thinking the person did not know you had a limit. The goal is to go in with the gentleness kindest language possible, and still have your boundary be respected.
YELLOW language is still kind but a little more direct. You may share a consequence. It means this person is either unwilling or reluctant to respect your boundary. My boundary shows my language needs to be a little bit more direct – it is still kind, but I am more direct. Example – “If we can’t change the tone of this discussion, I’ll be leaving the room for five minutes.”
RED language is the final action you are going to take to keep yourself safe and healthy.- “I’m going to interrupt you. The way that you were speaking to me is not OK for me. I’m going to leave for an hour. And when I come back, we will resume.”
Boundary Language Examples
One of the reasons why I love this book is because Melissa writes several chapters actually detailing specific examples and language to use with family, friends, spouses and in-laws. Here are a few examples of language she suggests.
- “I’m not requesting or receiving feedback about this.”
- “I will not participate in a conversation that does not feel safe to me. – I need our conversations to feel safe, productive, and healthy. I’m noticing that (your tone is escalating/you called me a name.) This does not feel healthy. I’m going to take a 5 minute break when I come back, let’s re-engage.”
- Rather than saying, you’re not allowed to talk to me that way, you would say, “if you talk that way to me again, I will leave. I will not participate in a conversation that does not feel safe to me.”
- “Thank you for thinking of me. This doesn’t feel like a good fit, so I’m going to pass.”
- “I could use some alone time, so I’m going into the other room to read.”
A Few Last Things to Remember
- A boundary is about taking care of yourself. It is not about changing someone else’s behavior.
- A boundary is where you begin and where someone else ends.
- Your needs matter – Check-in with yourself often to ask “what do I need in this very moment?”
- Boundaries are never telling the other person what to do. They are not about controlling other people. They are about telling people what YOU will do to keep yourself safe and healthy.
- Look to other women that are modeling healthy boundaries to reshape your mindset
It is important to remember, you can not pour from an empty cup. Boundaries ensure that you maintain your own energy, time and mental health in a sustainable way. They also give people the roadmap how to communicate with you most effectively. Acting as a guide, boundaries signal what you need for your mental health and energy. Rather than pushing people away, they invite others to engage within the limits necessary for your mental health and energy.
Melissa Urban’s “The Book of Boundaries” is a guide to creating and maintaining healthy limits in your life. Embrace boundaries as tools that allow you to lead a more fulfilling and balanced life. Remember, setting boundaries is an act of self-love and an investment in healthier, more authentic relationships.
- The Book of Boundaries – Set the Limits that will Set You Free by Melissa Urban
- Get Psyched Podcast – Boundaries Melissa Urban – October 20, 2022
- We Can Do Hard Things Podcast – 143. How to Set and Hold Boundaries October 27, 2022