Using FACTS and TESTS to Set Healthy Boundaries

One of the most common problems in relationships, whether at work, school, or home, is setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.

if you're feeling extra exhausted lately, it might be because you've forgotten to prioritize the healthy boundaries you need to be your best self.

Troubling FACTS: Problems Caused by Boundary Compromises

When we continually allow our boundaries to be compromised, we may experience the following FACTS:

  • F, for Frustration that things never seem to go our way.
  • A, for Anger at others who seem to take advantage of us.
  • C, for Confusion as to when we'll ever really get to be our best self, as opposed to always supporting others.
  • T, for Trouble even though we wanted everything to go smoothly.
  • S, for Sickness and malaise, after we have given away so much of our energy to other people, violating our health boundaries.

We should always run TESTS when the FACTS aren't looking so good.

Applying the TESTS Model to Protect and Set Boundaries

After training and coaching teams and individuals for many years, Marc Carson has developed the TESTS model to assist in setting boundaries. Learning to set boundaries is an important key to improving our emotional competence and energy levels.

The TESTS model has five parts, which are described below:

  • T for Time
  • E for Energy
  • S for Self-support
  • T for Turnaround
  • S for Solidifying

The first T stands for Time

Always take additional time before making a decision that may compromise your boundaries. Avoid the quick "yes," even if just to get an annoying person to leave you alone.

Consistently setting healthy boundaries is not easy, so please be patient with yourself. As Brené Brown said,

...I bought a silver ring that I spin while silently repeating, "Choose discomfort over resentment." My mantra reminds me that I'm making a choice that's critical for my well-being—even if it's not easy.

"Choosing discomfort over resentment" is a great way to put it.

Buy time, make time, kill time. Whatever it takes. Use the time to let your feelings about the situation settle a bit, and try to answer the questions below.

E is for Energy

Ask yourself: Where are my energy levels lately? Do I have A) more than I need, B) just enough, or C) not enough?

If you answered B or C, it may be a good idea to consider declining.

If you answered with a definite C, it's probably a good idea to say "no," but also make plans to bring those energy levels back up again.

If you answered with A, now may be a good time to take the risk, compromise the boundary a bit, and evaluate the results for your energy as things develop.

However, it's important to note that you can also decide to use the energy for something else. For example, you can decide to do more of the things that make you feel confident and energetic, rather than taking on yet another boundary compromise.

S is for Self-support

Ask yourself: Have I taken care of myself lately? Am I getting what I want out of life? Am I getting what I want out of this situation? If the answer to any of those questions is "no," it's probably a good time to start setting more boundaries before you compromise on new decisions.

We all need systems of self-support, which help us build energy reserves for all the heroic work we do in life. This can include developing new interests in life, finding more good outcomes for ourselves, or exploring what new things life has to offer us.

T is for Turnaround

What are some other ways to solve the problem for the person asking for help? Who else, or what else, could help? Or--another boundaries question--is it a better idea to trust or encourage them to solve the problem on their own?

Avoid the tendency to think that the problem is about "me." You may find that you ask yourself, "can I do this for them somehow," or, "since they took the trouble to ask me, what can I do for them?" This can create internal conflict over the question, "am I good enough?".

Instead of framing the problem as a question of your personal worth, skill, or ability, let's put the focus back on the person asking for help.

Think about what they can do, or who else can help them. People who struggle to protect their boundaries often ask others to compromise their boundaries too! Boundary violations can be very contagious in this way, so it's a good idea to consider Turnaround and some gentle push-back.

It may also be the case that they (the person or people asking / inviting a boundary compromise) need to involve other people in addition to you, or that they need to be satisfied with only a little bit of your help.

S is for Solidifying

By this last step, you should feel ready to prepare a healthy response. Your response should protect your boundaries and communicate a Solid decision.

What are some polite, firm, or creative ways to communicate this decision? Has the person asking been polite with you, or do they need a more firm answer? Or do you feel like some gentle humor might help? If possible, try to write down or brainstorm a few communication ideas to choose from.

It should feel healthy and productive to create a solid plan to protect your boundaries, and follow up by executing on that plan.

In Closing

Congratulations--You've put the question through these important TESTS which will help you develop additional emotional security, protect your energy levels, support yourself for healthier living, and successfully communicate in a solutions-oriented manner.

Please remember--when the FACTS don't add up well for you, you can apply TESTS to protect your boundaries and build a healthier life for yourself and those you love.

Topics: CommunicationEmotional Intelligence