How To Set A Boundary?

Cyndi Darnell Sexologist NYCMany of us do not know that we even have a boundary until it’s been crossed. For a lot of us, working out where our boundaries are, happens as we interact with life. It’s not necessarily something that happens purely as a mental exercise. After all, most of us do not realize what we are capable of or willing to do until we are in a challenging situation.

Often times, we’ll start to notice an uncomfortable feeling rising as we anticipate an activity, meeting or discussion. Or you might feel anger or dread about having to endure an ongoing situation with a coworker, family member, partner or friend. It’s easy to dismiss this as annoyance – which is true. But what’s also true, is something deeper is happening too.

Experiencing discomfort with someone or something is usually an indication that a ‘value’ is being stretched and a ‘boundary’ is being crossed – even if you didn’t know you had a value or a boundary there to start with.

For example, when you find yourself in a situation where you are noticing awkward or unpleasant feelings rising in you, it’s a great time to practice getting down with your feelings and setting boundaries.

To do this it’s helpful to ask yourself:

  1. What am I feeling right now? Use this guide to help you determine what you’re feeling.

After you have been able to identify one single feeling that fits, ask yourself -

  1. What do I need right now? – that could be anything that’s physical, mental, emotional, relational or internal.
  • Physical needs could be a hug, being alone, receiving a different kind of touch or getting some air.
  • Mental needs to could being in silence, remembering you’re safe or being acknowledged.
  • Emotional needs could be being empathized with or being heard and validated.
  • Internal needs could be recognizing you need to remove yourself from a situation, accepting that someone sees the situation different than you, taking a drink of water, getting some sugar or going for a run to practice regulating your nervous system.

Sometimes our needs are a combination of these.Cyndi Darnell Sexologist NYC

When you can first identify a feeling, it’s often easier from there to determine what you need. Without knowing what you’re feeling, it can be hard to identify a value then move or change to set a boundary.

Practice being curious about values and boundaries and reflect on how you will know or what you might feel / experience when the need is met.

For example, if I feel anger, I feel my heart rate increase and I notice my vision becomes narrow. I might recognize that I am feeling invalidated and misunderstood. The value being ignored is validation. It’s important to me to feel that what I think matters. What I need is to feel heard and acknowledged. When I feel acknowledged, I feel like I am cared for and I matter.

Whoa, that can be big, but this is what I might calmly say –

“Right now I am noticing I am feeling angry because I’m feeling misunderstood. I feel you’re not hearing me.  It would be helpful if you would hear what I am saying. I am not saying X – I am saying Y. I’d prefer that you hear / acknowledge that.”

You might not get what you want, but this practice is part of recognizing a value and setting a boundary.

In this case the boundary is around being heard, understood and validated. It’s not forcing others to agree with you. Nor you with them. It’s practicing saying your feelings, what’s being crossed, what you need and finally the boundary.

After identifying and defining the needs, get clear on your boundary. In this example the boundary is around communication. “It’s not OK to ignore or dismiss me.”

Cyndi Darnell Sexologist NYCThis is a practice and takes time to master. It takes repetition and unfortunately it’s not always well received by others. When we start changing ourselves to really show-up and take care of ourselves, those around us may not be on board. There is a chance others will be upset by this. While it might seem like the others are at fault and the source of our distress, boundaries and values are actually something for us to manage and live with, rather than something others need to do to accommodate us. They have their own values and boundaries and thus – the dance of relationship work takes flight.

In this case we go back to our feelings. When left with the choice to stay with ourselves or go back to what we always do – which will you choose? It may feel easier to slip back into old habits, but consider the cost. If we are prone to abandoning ourselves in relationships, it’s likely others will abandon our values and boundaries too. Setting boundaries is often like setting a new precedent in relationships. It takes time for others to get on board. But the rewards are conclusively worthwhile.

Once we can advocate for ourselves in intimate relationships, it can be easier to advocate for ourselves in sex too. After all, many people find sex hard(er) to talk about than even talking about feelings. Practicing by talking about less loaded topics is a good forerunner to then start discussing sexual values and boundaries.

Remember that boundaries are often learned as children in our family of origin, but we can start doing work on our boundaries at any stage in life. ​To have fulfilling emotional and sexual relationships, it is our responsibility to identify and communicate our needs, likes/dislikes, personal beliefs, thoughts and feelings. By taking care of ourselves, we are also taking better care of our relationships.

Taking care of your relationships is the most valuable investment of your life. Learn how I can help you.