What comes to mind when you hear the term “healthy boundary?”  If your answer includes any attempt to control what another adult does, keep reading because that thought isn’t serving you.  That’s not a healthy boundary.

In reality, adults can choose to behave however they want. If they choose to break the law, we can choose to call the police but we cannot control their actions.

Our job is to choose our actions. In every situation in our lives, we decide what we will or won’t do.

So, what is a healthy boundary?

A healthy boundary keeps other people from coming into our physical or emotional space—the parts of us we choose to keep separate.

Basically, a boundary is a statement of what we will do to protect ourselves if another person crosses a line that we’ve decided isn’t okay for them to cross.

Healthy boundaries are about us, not about others. Boundaries are a way we honor our body, our property, our emotional space, and our parental responsibilities.

When should we create a boundary?

In general, we tell other people about a boundary if they violate it.

For example, if we consider being yelled at a boundary violation, it’s not until someone yells at us that we need to say, “If you continue to yell, I’m going to leave the room.”

Some people don’t mind engaging in yelling matches; other people hate yelling. Boundaries aren’t a one-size-fits-all thing. That’s why it’s important to let someone know if they have crossed a line.

How to implement a healthy boundary

Here are the 3 simple steps:

  1. Get clear about our goal. This step is sometimes the most challenging because we have to get honest about what we want for ourselves. If our primary focus is to change another person rather than taking care of ourselves, we aren’t ready to set a boundary.
  2. Set a boundary. Make a request and let others know what we will do if they choose not to honor our request.
  3. Follow through with love. If we get angry when someone else chooses not to honor our request, we weren’t making a request in the first place. A request doesn’t take the form of you must do this or I’ll be mad at you. A request is asking someone for something, fully allowing that person to make a choice. When someone doesn’t abide by our boundary request, we love ourselves enough to follow through.

Let’s look at some examples.

Hypothetical Example – Parents Send Religious Gifts

Let’s say my parents send my children Christmas or Easter gifts that include Mormon propaganda—like CTR rings, For the Strength of Youth pamphlets, scripture bookmarks, or scripture story videos. If I notice I’m resenting my parents for sending these gifts, I may want to follow the steps to set a boundary.

Get clear on my goal: Maybe I decide I want my home to be religion-free. [Notice, this isn’t a goal about changing my parents or needing them to be different. It’s a goal to protect my home from things I don’t want in it.]

Set a boundary. I tell my parents what I want and also what I will do if they choose not to honor the request. Here’s an example of what I could say:

Mom and Dad- I don’t want my kids to receive religious gifts. I want my kids to be as free as possible from religious indoctrination while they are young and I don’t want religious materials in our home. So, I am going to send these gifts back to you. If you decide to send gifts like this again, I will throw them away. I’m telling you this because I love you and I don’t want things like this to get in the way of my relationship with you or your relationship with your grandchildren. When you come over,  I don’t want you to wonder why the kids don’t have the gifts you sent.

Follow through with love. If my parents choose to send religious gifts, I throw them away. I can do this without drama or yelling or making any attempt to change them. I don’t have to make these gifts mean my parents don’t respect me. Instead, I could think, “wow, it’s fascinating that my parents would continue to send these knowing I’ll throw them away. I guess if it means that much to them to send these gifts, I can take 15 seconds to put them in the garbage.”

Perhaps, in this scenario, my parents would be honoring their values in the best way they know how. Maybe they think the failure to send religious gifts means they aren’t doing their religious duty so they choose to send the gifts. I don’t have to agree with their reasons; I just need to honor the boundary I set.

When I do, their gift-sending is no longer a problem because I take on the responsibility to make sure my home is religion free. If I value a home without religious stuff, that’s my job to create that environment.

Hypothetical example—Testimonies at a family reunion

Let’s say I’ve decided not to attend church anymore. At a family reunion, three of my cousins bear their testimony to me.

In this situation, I wouldn’t necessarily need to set a boundary. I could simply tell my cousins that I see things differently and I  love them no matter what they believe.

Or, I may decide that because I’m still working through a lot of emotions connected to my faith transition, I’m not ready to listen to them discuss their religious beliefs.

Get specific on what I want. Perhaps I decide that I want to spend time with my family, but only when they are not talking about religion.

Get clear on my goal.  Perhaps I decide I want time away from hearing other people (including family) talk about the church.

Set a boundary. I could tell my family what I want for me by saying something like this:

As you know, I’ve recently lost my belief in the truth claims of the church. I love you all and I don’t expect you to change beliefs. But I’d like to request that you not bear your testimony to me and that don’t ask me questions about what I believe. I’m also not comfortable hanging out with you while you’re talking with each other about church stuff. If religion becomes a point of conversation, I’m going to take a walk or go read for a while. Then, when you’re ready to talk about other things again feel free to come get me. Please know this isn’t anything against you. I think there will be a time when it isn’t an issue for me to be around church-oriented discussions. But for now, this is what I need to do to take care of myself.

Follow through with love. If members of my family bring up church topics from time to time, I don’t have to take it personally. I could just excuse myself and go for a walk like I said I would. If my family constantly talks about the church, I may decide to leave the reunion in order to honor my boundary. But, I could do so because I respect myself—not because I want to change or punish my family.

Boundaries take courage

Of course, other people may not like, agree with, or understand the boundaries we set.

Having other people validate us isn’t the point of a healthy boundary. It isn’t anyone else’s job to take care of us. That’s our job.

When we love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves, we discover that resentment isn’t necessary at all. The world starts to feel like a safer place because we’ve got ourselves covered.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we just might realize that all we’ve been seeking from outside sources has been with us all along. There’s no place like being at home with ourselves.