This took me a long time to figure out and I’m admittedly still learning.

In fact, I spent the better part of last year learning about boundaries to help me survive what was objectively the hardest year of my life.  

2019 proved itself to be an ongoing, and quite educational case-study in how to put my mental and emotional well-being first.

Over this time, I concluded that there are 4 key boundaries that must be set if we want to be happy and at ease in our own skin. Here they are.

1.   Say no. 

To the job opportunity that’s a no brainer on paper but that you know isn’t right for you.

To the big dysfunctional family get-together you’re totally dreading.

To the social occasion you’re only attending to save face.

To the things you don’t want to do. Say no to these things.

We seem to have this perception that we only regret things we don’t try or that we don’t do.

But what about the situations that leave us uncomfortable, upset or just drained? Why would we fear missing out on those things?

I think for many of us it boils down to the feeling that if we say no, we’ll be looked at in a negative light or that we’ll upset people. That certainly used to be the case for me.

If I think back to the things I’ve done and not done this year, I can’t recall a single instance where I regretted saying no. I also see no evidence that it’s causing those opportunities to stop presenting themselves (in other words, the invitations are still coming).

On the contrary, there were many instances when I said yes to something I didn’t want to do and dreaded it, had a bad time or exposed myself to a toxic encounter.

Every time I say no to something I don’t want to do, it results in me not doing that thing. That’s a pretty simple win.

Takeaway: Stop feeling obligated and start saying no to things you don’t want to do.

2.   Stop apologizing when you’re not sorry.

Let me first say that I was the worst offender of this. A pathological apologizer (not a real word, but you get the point).

I wasn’t sorry for making a girlfriend wait 3 hours for a text response because I was successfully unglued from my phone.

I wasn’t sorry for telling a client no to an unreasonable request that would negatively impact my time or earnings.

And I have never once been sorry for being in the way of the rude stranger at the airport who actually bumped into me.

Yet, somehow I frequently found myself apologizing for all of these things.

I didn’t realize I did it until a unique confluence of events caused me to become very protective of when I was and wasn’t willing to apologize.

Women in particular are notorious for saying we’re sorry when we have zero reasons to be, and realistically, when we probable aren’t.

Maybe we’re trying to be conscientious or perhaps we want to be considerate of other peoples’ feelings. Often, I think it’s something worse.

In many cases, I believe we apologize as a knee-jerk reaction because we’re carrying a subconscious guilt for our decision making, our self-prioritization and in some cases even for our existence getting in the way of others.

I took me a long time to grasp this and I’m still working on it. What I do now is to stop myself when I feel the impulse to apologize and ask myself, “Am I actually sorry?”

If the answer is no, I make a conscious decision to say something else.

One added benefit I’ve found in doing this is that by offering only sincere apologies, I actually feel them deeper. The apology is more meaningful to me and I imagine the recipient feels that way too.

Stop apologizing when you’re not sorry. Replace that dialogue with something else.

3.   Separate yourself from toxic people.

Saying no to things you don’t want to do is hugely important, but sometimes more is required than just setting boundaries and limiting interactions.

This year, I made the difficult and necessary decisions to separate myself from several toxic people, some of whom were even family.

Un-fun fact on the road to happiness: Sometimes you need to cut toxic people out of your life.

So how do you know when you may need to consider this route?

You dread any encounter with someone because of how they make you feel.

You fundamentally disagree with how someone behaves on a recurring basis.

Someone intentionally and repeatedly disrespects you.

Someone is simply toxic for you to be around.

These are all scenarios where you may need to separate yourself completely in order to find peace and happiness.

It will be painful. Sometimes you’ll feel guilty. You may even experience intermittent regret. Sadness will come in waves when you genuinely miss the good times with them.

In some cases you’ll receive backlash or even blame from mutual friends or family who don’t understand how you can just distance yourself away from this person or group of people.

Regardless, you must remember that you deserve to live a life that isn’t negatively impacted by being around people who negatively impact your emotional wellness and your life in general.

Take away: Only you can know if people are toxic or unsafe for your well-being. Stop being around those people.

4.   Forgive yourself.

If I was a superhero, my name would be Guilt-woman.

My superpower would be that I could take any circumstance and figure out exactly how it’s my fault and how I could have helped it (or fixed it) if I had done something differently.

Sound all too familiar?

Well, let’s stop doing this right now.

When you make drastic life changes to increase your mental, emotional and even physical wellness you’ll ruffle some feathers on a good day. On a bad day, people will be furious with you.

Prioritizing your well-being requires you to do things differently than the way you used to.

Even the people who care about you and who have good intentions may become frustrated at the fact that you decline invitations to functions with people you no longer expose yourself to or at your sudden will to say no in general.

It’s bound to happen, but you can’t let this hinder your journey. It’s not about them.

You’re making decisions based on what you need in order to be happy and to be whole. That has to be your top priority and it is only going to work if you stop feeling guilty for taking care of yourself.

Takeaway: Self-care is not something to feel guilty about. Make a consistent effort to offer yourself grace and forgiveness.

Remember – There’s no magic bullet for setting boundaries.

As is the case with most worthwhile things in life, there’s no set it and forget it system here. You’re going to have to continuously work on these things.

When you prioritize your well-being, there will always be new challenges, and you’ll feel resistance at times.

This is all part of the human condition and no one is exempt from the challenges on this journey.

The bottom line is that learning to set and follow boundaries for how you interact with yourself and with the world will leave you happier, freer and more able to show up fully in your life.