Setting Boundaries: Why Your Personal Ground Rules Matter and How to Make Them

If you’ve ever attended a professional training course, you’ll know the first thing the teacher usually does is set the ground rules for the day.

These almost always include respecting each other’s opinion, and switching off your mobile ‘phone.

But how often do you set ground rules in your everyday life?

Ground rules can be a set of personal boundaries which make clear:

  • what’s acceptable – and unacceptable to you
  • the things you’re prepared to tolerate from other people, and
  • the standards you set for yourself.

The problem is we often set standards higher for ourselves than we do for other people. And we often really relax the rules for those closest to us.

The benefits of setting ground rules are plenty, but most importantly they can let people know where they stand, whilst protecting your mental and physical wellbeing. If people think you have no boundaries, they may be quick to take advantage.

So, how do you set ground rules?

The first thing to decide is where your lines are drawn. What is okay – and not okay – to you? What will you accept, what is unacceptable? What matters, and what needs to change? What do you want more – or less of – in your life? How can you set a reasonable standard for yourself and others, that makes it clear what is healthy and what’s not?

It might be something practical, for example:

• you might not want family and friends to call/text after 9pm or before 8am unless it’s urgent. That way you’re assured of a night without being disturbed.

Or it might be something that can enhance your wellbeing, for example:

• you might want less negativity in your life, and instead would like to be surrounded by people who bring out the best in you.

Some other types of boundaries could be:

Take some time to think about your ground rules and whether or not they’re working for you. Then think about what boundaries you need.

The next thing is how you communicate them.

You might have already decided that cheating in a relationship is not okay, but your idea of what unfaithful looks like might be different to your partner’s. Communication of boundaries is therefore key to them working successfully, without creating conflict.

Once you know what your boundaries are, see if you can find a way to explain this to someone, calmly making your point. Practice it with a friend (or professional) until you feel you can get your point across in a healthy and positive way.

Setting your ground rules and saying no to someone can be hard. It can make us feel guilty, especially if we’ve always given in or let them have their way before. But remember you have a right to put your health first, to be heard, and a right to be safe. (If you feel unsafe in a relationship, organisations like Refuge can help).

You also have a right to say no, without explaining yourself. You can always say “thank you” then follow up with phrases like:

• “That doesn’t work for me”

• “It’s kind of you to offer, but not today”

• “I appreciate you asking. Perhaps another time?”

Ground rules are there for everyone’s benefit. If people know where they stand they’re less likely to push the boundaries. So just as you would on a training course, when you need a helpful conversation with someone, why not start by promising to respect each other’s opinions, and switching your ‘phones off whilst you talk?

Setting personal boundaries is a way of caring for yourself, so that you can be there for others when they need you. It’s not selfish to create your ground rules, it’s essential.

You might also like:

Monday Mojo – feel-good motivation for the week ahead.

©️ Delphi Ellis 2018

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