Personal boundaries — very important for everyone but building them and then maintaining them can be two very difficult matters. Having good personal boundaries is essential to maintaining your mental health. Figuring out how to set boundaries and then enforce them is a skill, something that the none of us are not born with but which the vast majority of us are capable of learning. Sure, we might pick up some tips along the course of our life but for most of us, when it comes to the nails and bolts of enforcing our boundaries, most of us are left just scratching our heads and wondering, “How did I get here, again!”

The key to setting personal boundaries has to do with understanding and respecting your own limits.

You can figure this out by following these steps:

1. Sit down and write out an inventory of your limits

This first step is crucial because you can not set any decent boundaries if you don’t first know where you stand, what your lines in the sand are, so to speak. When you go through this exercise, you will be able to identify your emotional, physical and even yours spiritual limits so you can determine what you can tolerate and what you can not. Everyone has limits. There is no shame in saying, “I can do this and no more.”

2. Get in touch with your feelings about stressors in your life

Some psychologists have identified two key feelings which are red flags for most people. If you can identify those intense feelings in yourself, you will have a clearer understanding of why you respond the way you do to those stressors. The two biggest red flag feelings are either resentment or discomfort. Most people who are experiencing these feelings often distance themselves from them because the feelings are, in and of themselves, uncomfortable for us to experience let alone admit to feeling. When you can identify those feelings, next ask yourself what is causing you to experience the feeling. That will your first clue to where a boundary needs to be set.

3. Try addressing the problem in a different way

Some people don’t need direct, concrete ways to maintain their healthy boundaries.For many of these people, the way they deal with issues like boundaries has more to do with their personal communication style than anything else. These people also usually have a different outlook on life in general, they are more able to “go with the flow” and don’t get caught up in the minutiae of life.These things can all be dramatically influenced by things like differences in cultural backgrounds and the way a person was raised. For example, people from India have a very different perception of “personal space” than those from North America. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, the best way to address that is usually by being assertive.

4. Giving yourself permission to enforce your boundaries is important

Many people experience intense feelings of guilt or fear when they try to enforce a boundary so being able to give yourself permission to do this is extremely important. While we recognize that these types of feelings are self-defeating and counter-productive, they can, nevertheless, completely derail us when trying to enforce a boundary. We often get derailed because of the way the other person responds to us when we try to enforce a boundary. So, being able to acknowledge to yourself that it is okay to set and enforce a boundary is extremely important.

5. Self-awareness plays an important role in maintaining good boundaries

Because good boundaries are all about acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, it is important to practice self-awareness. This is necessary because you will want to be able to monitor if you start to “slip” and fall back into old patterns of being a doormat. If you feel you are starting to revert back to old behaviour patterns, ask yourself what has changed.

6. Take the time to practice self-care

Most people place their own self-care at the absolute bottom of their priority list. When we do that, it makes setting, enforcing and maintaining healthy boundaries very difficult. When you set healthy boundaries, try to frame it as “this is one of the things I do to look after myself, my mental health and my general well being.” Practicing good self-care is all about giving yourself permission to put yourself first sometimes. When you practice good self- care you are giving yourself permission to recharge your own batteries.

7. Ask for support if you need it

Sometimes maintaining good boundaries can be exceptionally challenging. If you need help doing this, don’t ever be afraid to ask for support. This can be found in a formal support group, from a counselor or just from another good and trusted friend. If you need support and you are able to ask for it, it will make the job of keeping your boundaries strong and healthy that much easier. It is important to remember to keep yourself as a priority especially if you have people in your life who will tend to walk all over you if you let them.

8. Starting small is usually the best way to go

When you are starting a new habit or lifestyle change, it is always best to start small. They say that it takes 21 days to build a new habit. I actually think it takes longer than that but you have to also remember that if you want to change an old behaviour you need to put a new behaviour in its place.Setting and maintaining good boundaries can be very difficult so it’s best to not try to do it with a person you have a history of big conflict with, such as your mother. In the same way that when you first start to practice assertiveness with people with whom you have no emotional baggage or investment, it is a good idea to use that strategy when first starting to set boundaries.

Learning how to set healthy boundaries takes a lot of practice, courage and support. But if you tend to feel like people run roughshod over you a lot of the time, this is one endeavour that will pay off greatly in terms of your self-esteem.