Healthy Mind

5 Boundary-Setting Phrases and Practices We Learned in 2022 That Will Change Your Relationships for the Better

Photo: Stocksy/Jimena Roquero
By challenging nearly all aspects of our physical health, mental well-being, and day-to-day routines, the pandemic has consistently illuminated the crucial role of personal boundaries. As such, we at Well+Good have sought the expert insights of therapists and psychologists over the past couple years to tackle the topic across dimensions—from work and family dynamics, to friendships and dating, to socializing, finances, and holiday stress.

But in 2022, we took the boundary conversation to the next level, diving deep into the ways in which mental-health experts actually set boundaries in their own lives and exploring unique scenarios that might make boundaries especially important—or difficult to enforce (we’re looking at you, people-pleasers). In many of those discussions with experts, we picked up smart phrases and practices for setting boundaries that make doing so just that much easier.

Whether you’re a regular boundary-setter or you’re new to the whole boundaries thing, read on for the top phrases and techniques for setting healthy (but not overly rigid) boundaries that we learned in 2022. Then, pocket them all to start 2023 in alignment with your personal values.

1. For setting boundaries around social media in a relationship

Not all people in relationships need to set boundaries around social media. But if your or your partner’s time spent scrolling has become a source of tension, mistrust, or distraction within your partnership, there’s a good chance you’d benefit from doing so.

According to psychologist Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC, it’s helpful to start the social-media boundary talk with an “I” statement describing your stance, like, “I feel hurt when I see you _________ on social media. Are you open to talking through this?” or “I am struggling with some of the things you have been posting on social media. Would you be willing to explore a compromise on this?” These phrases for setting boundaries help signal to your partner that you’re not okay with the status quo—without ambushing them into a conversation they aren’t ready to have.

2. For managing boundaries as an empathetic person

Being empathetic (aka being able to sense and relate to the feelings of others) can create a real boundaries conundrum. It can make them both more important for you (because of your potential for empathy burnout) but also more difficult to set (given your tendency to bear the weight of others’ feelings). Which is why, in 2022, we chatted with psychologists to get their takes on how empathetic folks, in particular, can enact the boundaries they very much need.

Clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, shared a couple key strategies to follow: Carve out some alone time every day (yes, really), and offload the responsibility to “fix” every person whose feelings you connect with or embrace.

To uphold the former boundary, you might say to a friend who reaches out to you during your alone time: “I can surely make space to talk with you in an hour after I’ve had a chance to rest and get a bite to eat,” Dr. Manly previously told Well+Good. And to enforce the latter, you might say to someone who’s looking for help: “I’m here to listen and support you. And after we talk, I will give you some additional resources,” suggested Dr. Manly. At that point, you could share the name of a therapist or support group as a way of delegating the need for assistance.

3. For navigating someone overstepping an unexpressed boundary

It’s easy to get defensive whenever someone violates one of your personal boundaries—but before tossing an accusation, take a beat to figure out whether the boundary-crossing was intentional. All too often, we “go external” and start to attack someone who never meant to overstep, self-healing advocate Yasmine Cheyenne previously told Well+Good. For example, if someone asks you to work on a project for free, a defensive response might say: “Don’t they know I deserve to be paid?” Whereas, a more effective tack would be to simply clarify that boundary because chances are, the person on the other end wasn’t aware of it.

“When we approach boundaries from [a place of calm], we don't accuse people or project onto them things that they wouldn't have known, and we remind ourselves that we can enforce our boundaries anytime we need to,” said Cheyenne. Her suggested alternative to the above? Simply say: “Hey, I appreciate you thinking of me, but I'm only taking on paid opportunities at this time.” This phrase allows you to honor your boundary while still leaving the door open for an authentic partnership with the person on the other end.

4. For handling guilt around work boundaries

If 2021 brought increasingly blurred lines between work and home for many, 2022 delivered an utter rejection of that premise—so much so, that some folks called their newly (re)instated boundaries “quiet quitting.” As if to say that setting strong boundaries around the work you’re doing (and not taking on additional work for free) is a form of quitting.

To many workplace experts, the “quiet quitting” discourse only served to highlight just how ingrained our hustle mentality really is, and just how much difficulty we often have, as a culture, with acknowledging that it’s okay to do less. In that vein, burnout expert Erayna Sargent shared with us a particularly powerful phrase worth remembering to avoid guilt around work boundaries: “Rest and boundaries are not earned by your production, but are tools to help you thrive.”

If you find yourself struggling to uphold work boundaries, Sargent also suggested asking yourself a couple questions—namely, “If not now, when?” and “What would you say to your BFF [if they were in your shoes]?” The first can draw your attention to the fact that you’ll never arrive at a time when everything is done. So why not embrace a boundary now? And the second can help you gain some perspective. Chances are, you’d encourage a friend to uphold their work boundaries if they were in your situation—so why not do the same for yourself?

5. For better upholding any personal boundary

Let’s be real: Boundaries only work if you actually uphold them. And oftentimes, the only person to blame for one of your boundaries falling by the wayside is…you. If you’re the biggest offender of your own boundaries, you’d be wise to get extra-specific about your boundaries when you set them, and to always use statements (instead of questions) when setting boundaries to ensure you don’t open up your boundaries for debate.

A few examples: Rather than just telling someone that you can help them move to a new apartment without expressing your need to leave at a certain time, you could get more specific by saying, “I can help you move for three hours on Sunday morning, but I have plans for the afternoon.” And instead of posing a boundary around offensive “jokes” as a question—as in, “Could you stop making jokes about my appearance?”—you could turn it into a definitive “I” statement by simply saying, “I’m not comfortable with you making jokes about my appearance,” integrative psychotherapist Abby Rawlinson, MBACP, previously told Well+Good. These phrases for setting boundaries have little wiggle room, which makes them that much more likely to stick.

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