Boundaries: What Are They & How To Start Setting Them

Throughout my mental health professional training and subsequent work in the field thus far, there has been an emphasis placed on the importance of identifying and setting boundaries. Boundaries can help guide us clinicians both in our work and personal lives. Helping clients establish their own boundaries can also play an important part in the therapeutic process and contribute to clients’ overall wellbeing.

So, what exactly are boundaries, and just how important are they to our happiness and overall wellbeing?

Personal boundaries can be thought of as limits we set with others, what we consider to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior towards us. Setting healthy boundaries allows us to connect with our emotions and our needs.

When might our boundaries be unhealthy?

Loose Boundaries.
When a person’s boundaries are loose, there may not be much separation between self and others. He or she may have a tough time identifying their own needs and emotions and can be sensitive to others’ criticisms. Common signs of loose boundaries include over-involvement in others’ lives, perfectionism, people pleasing, trying to fix and control others with judgments and advice, remaining in unhealthy relationships, taking on too much work or too many commitments, and avoidance of being alone often.

Rigid Boundaries.
On the contrary, rigid boundaries commonly serve as protection from vulnerability, in which hurt, loss and rejection can occur and be painful. Those with rigid boundaries generally fear too much closeness. Close relationships may be frightening for a variety of reasons, including a loss of independence. Those with rigid boundaries may crave connections with others while simultaneously fearing such closeness. Some may also avoid connecting with their selves, due to a harsh internal critic. Rigid boundaries can ultimately lead to chronic feelings of loneliness.

Knowing our boundaries and setting them can be a lengthy process, so give yourself some time to get it right. Here are 10 tips from PsychCentral to get started in identifying and implementing healthy boundaries for yourself:

1. Name limits.
It’s hard to set good boundaries if you are not certain of where you stand. Consider what you can accept and tolerate versus what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.

2. Tune into feelings.
Discomfort and resentment are cues that our boundaries need some adjustment.

3. Be direct.
Sometimes we may need to be more direct about our boundaries. Sure, it would be great if everyone could read our minds, but unfortunately this isn’t realistic.

4. Give permission.
Give yourself permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them. Boundaries indicate self-respect.

5. Practice self-awareness.
It’s all about connecting with your feelings and honoring them.

6. Consider past and present.
How we were raised, as well as our roles within our families can be factors in setting and preserving boundaries. For example, if a person took on the role of caretaker, they likely learned to focus on others. Ignoring their own needs may be their normal.

7. Make self-care a priority.
Give permission to put yourself first.

8. Seek support.
If you are having a hard time with boundaries, seeking outside support, like counseling (individual or group) can be helpful.

9. Be assertive.
When boundaries have been crossed, let the other person know in a respectful way and try to work together to address it.

10. Start small.
Lastly, remember that assertively communicating your boundaries can take practice, like any new skill. Start with a small boundary, then work your way up to more challenging ones.

By: Gina Pellrine, LMSW

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