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The Best Way to Set Boundaries


Many dysregulated eaters have difficulty setting boundaries. All/nothing thinking leads them to accept everyone into their lives and allow people to walk all over them or keeps them emotionally defended and alone. This is known as having loose or tight boundaries. One is not better than the other. Boundaries need to be set according to what’s necessary. Like doors, boundaries can be open, closed or swing back and forth. 

We learn about boundaries from parents and other adults who take care of themselves and others and say yes and no appropriately on a case-by-case basis. Boundaries are fluid—like swinging doors—set according to varying people and situations. Wise parents are sometimes available to their children and sometimes not. They watch out for them and themselves and are clear about what they will and won’t do for others.

Alternately, parents with poor boundary setting provide unhealthy models for their children. Maybe they feel bad saying no, so they say yes to avoid guilt or causing others discomfort. Maybe they go overboard giving to others and are upset when they’re taken advantage of. They expect people to have good boundaries but fail to set them straight right off when they don’t.

Returning to the analogy of doors, think of what you’d do if your apartment were burgled. You’d buy a stronger lock and maybe a dead bolt or have an alarm system installed. Maybe you’d even say, “This place feels unsafe” and move elsewhere. How many times would you let your apartment be burglarized before taking measures to stop it or move out? This is the same way you want to set personal boundaries.

Here's an example of what to do. Let’s say a friend asks to crash at your apartment for a few days and you agree. When the few days becomes a few weeks, you give them a firm deadline that’s sooner rather than later and if they still don’t get the hint, you put their stuff out in the hall and change the locks. That’s setting boundaries. 

Or when someone asks you questions about yourself, answer if you’re comfortable. If not, change the subject or tell them directly you’d rather not talk about this or that. If they keep on sticking their nose into your business, you have no choice but to let them know you feel disrespected and either end the conversation or the relationship.

Warning: Don’t expect others to set boundaries. Not everyone has the emotional capacity to do so. It’s your job to build your internal resources so that you can learn to comfortably say yes and no in better balance. Better boundaries make for better eating.