8 Boundaries Exercises for Groups: Find Freedom in Drawing a Line

Do you tend to be a doormat? Do you make sacrifices you shouldn’t? Do you let people in where they don’t belong?

When we’re not skilled in setting and enforcing boundaries, we’re more vulnerable to unhealthy relationships, mixed-up priorities, and burnout. We’ve put together several boundaries exercises for groups based on concepts from Henry Cloud, Nedra Glover Tawwab, Rachel Hollis, and others.

Keep reading to get started on these exercises that can help you move toward a more peaceful, balanced life.

Exercise 1: Practice Identifying, Setting, and Reinforcing Boundaries

The first boundaries exercise for groups is based on the ideas in Set Boundaries, Find Peace. Therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab details how you can transform your relationships by learning to set healthy boundaries, which are standards for how you’d like to be treated. Tawwab explains where your boundaries come from and offers strategies for identifying and communicating your boundaries in a variety of situations.

  1. Think of a recent situation where the way someone else treated you made you feel uncomfortable. Reflect on what specific actions made you feel uncomfortable and how you’d like to be treated differently in the future. Express this boundary below, in the form of a statement to the person who made you uncomfortable. For example: “I’d prefer that you refer to me by my first name, instead of using embarrassing nicknames.”
  2. It’s best to assert your boundaries as soon as possible when someone else makes you uncomfortable. Look back on the situation from the previous question. Did you respond in the moment to let the other person know you were uncomfortable? If not, when is the next opportunity you’ll have to share your boundaries with this person? Briefly describe when and how you’ll initiate that conversation.
  3. Prepare to reinforce your boundaries by deciding in advance what to do if the other person continues to violate your boundaries. In addition to restating the boundary, come up with consequences that protect you from discomfort and let the other person know you’re serious about your boundaries. Below, write down these consequences in the form of a statement to the other person. Example: “If you call me that embarrassing nickname in front of our friends again, I won’t invite you to go out with me next time.”

Exercise 2: Assess One of Your Relationships

If you’ve ever struggled to leave a lousy job or a toxic relationship, psychologist Henry Cloud has advice for you. The second boundaries exercise for groups is based on his book Necessary Endings, in which he argues that pulling out of a bad situation is often the best way to move forward with your life. According to Cloud, we should view the endings in our lives positively, as those endings enable us to begin to live the lives we want. Cloud offers strategies for assessing the various situations in your life, determining which of them need to end, and making sure that your endings stick.

According to Cloud, people can generally be sorted into three categories based on their character. “Wise people” are characterized by their ability to take ownership of their actions. “Fools” are unable to take responsibility for their actions, instead finding an external factor to blame for any mistakes they make. “Evil people” intend to harm others with their words and their actions; they’re unsafe to be around.

According to Cloud, assessing the character of the people in your life can help you determine how to handle your relationships with them.

  1. Think of a relationship in which you’ve recently felt frustrated. Briefly describe the behavior that has frustrated you. Based on what you know about the other person, sort them into one of Cloud’s three categories—are they wise, foolish, or evil?
  2. Based on your assessment of this person’s character, make a plan to address your frustrations in the relationship. If the person is responsible, you might consider communicating with them. If they’re irresponsible, you might want to set consequences for future offenses. If they’re evil, you may want to distance yourself from them. Describe your strategy.

Exercise 3: Deciding What’s Essential

We feel constantly pressed for time. We try to do too much, yet when someone makes a request, we say yes without thinking. We feel we have to do it all. But, because we’re going in so many directions, we make little progress in any of them. Yet most of these activities are trivial. Author Greg McKeown contends that we’re majoring in minor activities. The third boundaries exercise for groups is based on the concepts in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Many people don’t reach their optimum contribution level because they believe everything is important. However, only a few things are essential. To practice the skill of identifying the vital few, start by applying it to everyday decisions. When it’s second nature, apply it to bigger things.

  1. Think about the coming weekend. List the things you want to accomplish. Prioritize them.
  2. Choose the “vital few.” What makes them important? What can you eliminate to ensure that you get them done?
  3. Try the same exercise with your daily tasks at work. Make a list and prioritize them.
  4. Which few things contribute the most to your employer’s essential purpose? What can you eliminate to ensure you achieve these things?
  5. How do these few vital things dovetail with your essential purpose for your career and your life?

Exercise 4: Hell Yes or No

Greg McKeown says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Learn to focus on what’s essential and what really excites you so you can discard what’s not important. The following boundaries exercise for groups is also based on McKeown’s Essentialism.

  1. Make a list of opportunities available to you right now that you need to decide on. 
  2. Which of these make you say “hell yes?” Why do they?
  3. What prevents you from saying “no” to the other ones? Write a short explanation for each.

Exercise 5: Learn to Say Thanks, But No Thanks

Many of us are reluctant to say no to others because we’re afraid of creating conflict. But, we need to say no to nonessential activities in order to say yes to the most important things. The key is saying no gracefully by rejecting the activity but not the person. Again, this boundaries exercise for groups is based on Essentialism.

  1. Think of a recent request that you agreed to, but that left you feeling resentful or taken advantage of. Why did you agree in the first place? 
  2. What was your trade-off? What more important activity did you have to put off or eliminate to meet the request?
  3. How could you have said no, so that you felt satisfied about doing the right thing without hurting the relationship long term?  
  4. What boundary can you set in advance that would help you say no or eliminate the need to say no to this person or this type of request in the future? How would you explain the boundary to others?

Exercise 6: Rehearse a “No” Response

The next boundaries exercise for groups is based on the concepts in Girl, Stop Apologizing. Blogger, motivational speaker, and author Rachel Hollis writes that she’s fed up with seeing women ignore their own dreams because of self-doubt, guilt, and society’s expectation that women put others first. Hollis offers the lessons she learned in growing from humble beginnings to becoming the founder of a multimillion-dollar media company to help her readers shed the weight of expectation and achieve their dreams.

One of Hollis’s ways of advocating for yourself is saying “no.” As she explains, declining requests without guilt allows you to reserve your energies for the areas of your life that are most important to you. Hollis recommends you start by making a simple list of your priorities. Then, if the request isn’t going to serve your priorities, Hollis says you should politely decline. When you’ve decided to say no, Hollis recommends you do it as soon as possible, be polite but honest, and give a clear and firm “no” (not a probably or maybe).

Saying “no” to a request can be uncomfortable, but with practice, it gets easier. The better you get at saying “no,” the more you can say “yes” to your priorities.

  1. Think of a recent time when you agreed to something you didn’t really want to do—for instance, letting your friend borrow your car even though it made you uncomfortable. How did the conversation go?
  2. Imagine you are responding to that request today. Write three different ways you can decline (e.g., offer an alternative, make them prioritize, be polite but firm).

Exercise 7: Practice Setting Boundaries

In The Courage to Be Disliked, authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga argue that all interpersonal relationship problems are the result of improper boundaries—either you’re taking responsibility for a problem that isn’t yours, or someone else is taking responsibility for one of your problems.

In this boundaries exercise for groups, practice setting healthy boundaries by deconstructing one of your personal issues through this lens.

  1. Describe an ongoing interpersonal conflict in your life: any frustrating or distressing disagreement between you and one other person. Identify the problem or problems keeping each person from what they want. (For example, imagine your significant other thinks you’re spending too much time out with friends and feels neglected. Your significant other’s problem is that they want to spend more time with you, while your problem is that you want to spend time with your friends, but you don’t want to upset your partner.)
  2. Are you taking responsibility for a problem that isn’t yours, or is someone interfering in a problem that belongs to you? What is motivating you, or them, to do so? (Remember, to determine who a problem belongs to, ask: “Whose life will it affect?” In our example above, the conflict stems from the fact that you’re taking responsibility for your significant other’s feelings of neglect, which are their problem. Even if these improper boundaries are motivated by love and concern for your partner, they’re still harmful to the relationship.)
  3. List the negative consequences caused by these unhealthy boundaries. (In our example, taking responsibility for your significant other’s perception that they’re being neglected may cause you to make sacrifices, like staying home every night, even though you don’t want to, fostering feelings of resentment and entitlement. Additionally, it will impede your significant other’s personal growth by removing the need for them to develop trust and emotional autonomy.)
  4. What step could you take to disentangle your problems from those of the other person? (Remember, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. In our example, you might continue to go out with your friends as much as you like and allow your partner to become more independent, find a compromise that makes you both happy, or even end the relationship.)

Exercise 8: Is Seeking Approval Making You Unhappy?

This boundaries exercise for groups is also based on The Courage to Be Disliked. Kishimi and Koga point out that, when people are faced with the usually unachievable goal of gaining others’ approval, those who are unhappy often adopt a new approach—avoiding attempting to earn approval altogether. Rather than striving for the impossible target of getting others’ endorsement, they opt to not make the effort at all. This allows them to steer clear of the potential failure and disappointment brought on by chasing something unlikely to happen.

Kishimi and Koga assert that unhappy individuals tend to handle the challenge of securing approval by giving up on trying for it in the first place. As a result, they unconsciously manufacture negative emotions such as fear and self-loathing to avoid trying to win others’ approval. Investigate a persistent source of negative feelings in your life to see if they may be caused by this need for approval.

  1. Describe a persistent negative emotion that you wish you didn’t have. What goal might these negative feelings be helping you achieve? (Example: An actor too anxious to learn their lines may be trying to avoid the risk of embarrassment on stage.)
  2. Could this goal be related to the broader goal of earning approval of others? If so, whose approval are you looking for? Why do you think you care so much about their approval? (For example, our actor may avoid embarrassment because they feel the need to appear “cool” in front of their friends. This may be because the actor values their friends highly and is afraid of losing them.)
  3. Imagine what it would be like to completely disregard what this person (or people) thought of you. How does it feel? Frightening? Freeing? Why?
  4. What’s the smallest step you could take toward freeing yourself from their expectations? (For example, you may speak your mind around them in a situation where you would normally restrain yourself.)
8 Boundaries Exercises for Groups: Find Freedom in Drawing a Line

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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