Healthy boundaries and how to have them
Healthy boundaries and how to have them
Much of my work relates to our connection with other people (parents, children, partner, friends, co-workers) usually when these important relationships are not working as well as we might want them to.
I always have one eye on the underlying cause(s) of why these relationships are not serving my clients (this is often a bit multi-layered and can be a bit funky to get to the bottom of) however, one of the missing links we almost always have to navigate is the thorny subject of boundaries.
I have personal fascination with boundaries and I’m often researching the latest approaches to working with boundaries because honestly there a subject that get so much airtime in clinic! So many people find it hard to create and maintain healthy boundaries. And honestly, when it comes to boundaries, it is very much a skill we need to practice…and keep on practicing!
What are boundaries?
Boundaries show where one thing ends, and another begins. Boundaries in a relationship are kind of like this too; they help each person figure out where one person ends and the other begins. In short, boundaries help you define what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated by others.
They outline our needs, desires and when communicated effectively, they show other people how we like to be treated. When done well, boundaries are “a psychological resource that nurtures self-trust and our identity”. When our boundaries are respected, we feel validated, safe and we know where we belong.
Things get funky when we don’t know where our boundaries are, when we don’t know how to communicate them or when our boundaries are being trampled over. If we’ve come from a family where boundaries are poorly defined or what I’d describe as ‘leaky’ we are probably going to find it hard to know how to go about creating boundaries and will likely find it even more challenging when we are asked to defend those boundaries. It gets even more messy when we feel that it’s our role to be the ‘fixer’ in our relationships. If you’ve ever questioned whether or not you’re a people-pleaser, feel resentful when people ask things of you, or you find yourself saying “yes” when you really want to say “no”, then it’s time to tend to your boundaries!
Types of personal boundaries:
- EXTERNAL boundaries – the limits we place around our material things (money, car, house etc.), physical elements (personal space, body, privacy), time and sexual boundaries.
- INTERNAL boundaries – mental (thoughts, values, opinions), emotional (what is inside your control – your emotional responsibility – and what belongs to someone else) and spiritual
We often find it easier to conceptualise external boundaries because we can touch and see them – and the implications of not having solid, healthy boundaries are tangible and honestly kind of obvious. Internal ones though, they are a bit trickier because they are the glue between what information we internalise, the perspectives we take as a result and ultimately, how we choose to act in the world. When we have healthy internal boundaries, we are generally less emotionally reactive, we find it easier to see feedback as data rather than a personal attack and find it easier to withdraw from toxic people and situations.
Putting boundaries in place:
Once we know where the gaps or needs are, then it’s time to figure out how to go about putting our boundaries down.
Essentially, setting boundaries requires having straightforward conversations with other people – and sometimes ourselves too! It’s important that we have those conversations clearly and simply without too much waffle or justifications.
It’s uncomfortable to start with, saying “no” and being assertive. However, the clearer we are at the outset and the more transparent we are about what the consequences for when boundaries are over-stepped then the easier things get over time. Remember, when you back your boundary, you actually allow the other person to take responsibility for their own stuff – that was never yours to manage anyway!
Helpful alternatives to the straightforward “no”:
- Thank you, but I’ll pass this time round
- I’m not taking on new projects at the moment
- It doesn’t sound like quite the right fit for me
- I’ll have to sleep on that because I make it a personal policy to not make decisions straight away
- I appreciate your time but it’s not for me
- That really doesn’t work for me, my work and family schedule
Ultimately, healthy boundaries allow us to show up in the world with ease as our authentic selves and flourish in health relationships with people around us.
If you feel like boundary-setting is something to attend to in session, please reach out to us at Thea Baker Wellbeing: email@example.com / 03 9077 8194.