6 Realistic Ways To Strengthen Your Boundaries

The conversation around boundaries in interpersonal relationships often prioritizes how boundaries are crossed. Next, society tends to focus on how to set boundaries. What isn't discussed as often, though, is what to do after you've successfully set strong, healthy boundaries that uphold your values and self-respect. After you've been able to establish boundaries in your relationships, what comes next?

The discussion surrounding setting boundaries falls into what can be termed "Happily Ever After" syndrome, wherein fairytales send couples riding off into sunsets in horse-drawn carriages with implications that all will be perfect. Just as fairytales don't continue once the sun has set and reality sinks in, setting boundaries can be one thing to accomplish, yet another journey entirely to strengthen as daily life grinds on. 

PsychCentral reveals healthy boundaries earn their title in part because they're supportive parameters which are consciously reassessed, evaluated, and adjusted as time goes on. This enables the boundaries you set to evolve along with your life. Strengthening your boundaries is about aligning them with where you are today, and where you want to go in the future. You only need to think of why you set your boundaries in the first place, why you wish to maintain them, and what they mean to you. Consider if your boundaries are ongoing reflections of your values, limits, and goals, and if they are, commit to them and communicate them clearly with others. 

Reinforce your boundaries with others

There are seven primary types of boundaries, which are categorized as physical, time-based, emotional and mental, sexual, financial and property, spiritual and cultural, and a set of non-negotiable boundaries, reports PsychCentral. For different areas of your life, various types of boundaries will be pertinent while others may not be relative, but know that doesn't make any of your boundaries less valid at any time. 

When upholding your boundaries, you may find yourself having to reinforce specific boundaries you've set when someone tries to cross them. Knowing how to remind others of your boundaries in the moment is one way to maintain the integrity and presence of your boundaries. It can be helpful to practice what you want to say when your boundaries are crossed prior to an actual encounter, so rehearsing on your own and preparing statements you can practice articulating is one way to promote the continuation of your boundaries.

Another way to proactively strengthen your boundaries is to ask if your loved ones have any questions in relation to your boundaries from time to time. With romantic partners, family members, and friends, it can be a beneficial practice to have compassionate check-ins with one another. Create a practice of routinely discussing boundaries and asking others how you can respect their boundaries

Practice self-care

Self-reflection and self-care are possibly the two best tools you can have for strengthening your boundaries. Becoming self-aware can help you to uphold your boundaries, and also show yourself the kindness that you need while you maintain them. Through a regular mindfulness practice, you can spend time reflecting on how to approach your boundaries with empathy and positive emotions instead of negative forces, per Mindful

Mastermind encourages developing the daily habit of silently sitting in self-reflection for just a few minutes at the time of day most productive for you. Close your eyes to connect with your body, mind, and soul, and make an assessment of how you feel. When you identify an area that is feeling vulnerable or unattended, determine your needs and then set an intention to care for yourself (and be patient with yourself) as you uphold your boundaries.

For example, you may have set a boundary to refrain from answering work emails after hours, which might be causing you to feel stressed about neglecting your job. Remind yourself why you set the boundary in the first place, and that your well-being is your top priority, and consciously choose to spend some time de-stressing. You could also engage in an activity that you know will uplift you (hiking is always a good exercise to incorporate into your wellness routine!).

Adjust your boundaries as needed

According to Harvard Business Review, boundaries are most effective when treated as muscles that must be developed through trial and error, and a habitual practice that is a routine priority in one's life, akin to going to the gym or growing a garden in the backyard. 

After you have checked in with yourself and assessed how your boundaries are working in your life and making you feel, you can also establish whether or not they are still relevant for you. Pay attention to the physical sensations in your body as your boundaries are both respected and crossed to determine whether those boundaries are still serving you, and if not, how you can adjust them to better fit into your life (via Mindful). Reflect on why you set them in the first place and if those circumstances are still true. As you reflect, lead with curiosity that isn't threatened by negative thought patterns of being defined by the opinions and thoughts of others. Remember, your boundaries are in place to protect you, not anyone else. 

Stay true to your promises

Journaling is an effective tool for self-reflection of your boundaries and processing your feelings. If you can, set aside a second notebook or journal for tracking your boundaries and whether or not you're keeping them up (via The EveryGirl). When you notice that you haven't stayed true to the promises you made to yourself, work out a plan of attack to uphold them more effectively. And don't forget to note the boundaries you are successfully upholding and enhancing for your benefit and well-being, which are accomplishments definitely worthy of self-congratulations!

Keep in mind that if you haven't honored your commitments to yourself, you don't have to work on your boundaries alone. For instance, you may notice that you haven't been avoiding online shopping after setting a boundary to spend less and save money. You may ask your partner or best friend to check in with you each week to take stock of your efforts to strengthen that financial goal. Tracking is another great opportunity to connect with those closest to you to ask if you are upholding and respecting their boundaries, and inquire if they would like assistance with boundary accountability.

Understand your personality and inclinations

As every person is unique, the process of strengthening boundaries will be a little different for everyone. It's important to identify important elements of your personality, and any natural behaviors, beliefs, or inclinations that you have, to work out the specific ways that you can make your boundaries stronger. Through journaling, therapy, and reading topical resources, continue learning and expanding your awareness of who you are, and by extension, how you communicate your boundaries. 

This is especially relevant when it comes to reinforcing your boundaries during conflict. The University of Texas System shares the five identified conflict management styles, classified as handling conflict by avoiding, competing, accommodating, compromising, and collaborating. By learning which category you fall into, you can strengthen your boundaries by coming up with new ways to protect yourself during arguments. For example, if you tend to accommodate to others during conflict, you'll know that you need to make a conscious effort to practice boundaries that stop people from walking all over you, even if it's uncomfortable. 

Understanding your attachment style can also help you to improve your boundaries. This describes the way that you connect with people that you have relationships with, per The Attachment Project. If you have an avoidant attachment style, for instance, and you feel uncomfortable with intimacy, you might want to dismantle old rigid boundaries that were "protecting" you from getting too close to your partner, and instead instill healthier boundaries that allow you to work through your issues at your own pace. 

Apologize and mend fractured relationships

Particularly during moments of conflict, it can be easy to temporarily disregard respectful boundaries and say or do hurtful things to someone you care about. Remember that we're all human, so extend self-compassion and grace to yourself when you slip up, while simultaneously making an effort to reconnect with the other person following a hurtful dispute. Apologizing might not seem like a boundary in itself, but boundaries can take form through upholding your values to be kind in addition to maintaining healthy connections with others. Being compassionate and empathetic in restoring relationships following arguments is a healthy conflict-based boundary to cultivate.

Psychology Today emphasizes the significance of apologies as the extension of empathy towards the other person, validating that their feelings are worth being recognized and letting them know that you respect their well-being. After arguments, genuinely check in to see how the other person is doing. 

Harvard University shares seven steps for delivering effective apologies, which can be practiced as a means of strengthening healthy boundaries. Articulate the harmful offense and results of the actions, even if unintentional, and acknowledge responsibility with genuine expressions of remorse. Offer assurance that you won't repeat the harmful behavior, which is an actionable pursuit that can strengthen your boundaries.