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Boundaries – What's the Buzz?

Boundaries – What's the Buzz?

Posted: 11 Oct 2022

"Healthy boundaries are not selfish and they're not about keeping people out. They're about maintaining the energy, strength, and emotional well-being that you need to function in the world." – Heather Plett


"Boundaries", "setting boundaries" and "maintaining boundaries" are buzzing concepts in today's world that is becoming more and more psychologically aware.

Setting healthy boundaries is about creating balance within yourself and determining your relationship to all things in your life: family, friends, career, spirituality.


Let's delve a little deeper into this topic to understand what boundaries are, why they are important and how to go about instilling them in our lives to preserve our energy and focus for what matters most. 


Boundaries keep us safe


A boundary is a safeguard or parameter that we ask others to respect. It expresses how we would like other people to treat us.  We have physical, sexual, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial and time boundaries. These help us protect our physical selves, our mental wellbeing, and our resources such as time or money. They keep our lives manageable and allow others to take responsibility for themselves. Healthy boundaries create healthy relationships in which both parties feel free, safe, and respected and know what the other expects of them. 


If you're feeling depleted, anxious, overwhelmed, or resentful, or you find yourself avoiding certain people, there's a good chance that your boundaries are being compromised. Or possibly you need to set up a new boundary to protect yourself and say yes to your own physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Perhaps it means saying a simple no to helping a co-worker with a project that is their responsibility. Or, if you have taken on a new job you may need to spend less time with friends than before. If you are pregnant, you need more sleep at night which means saying no more often to evening outings. If you suffer from a chronic illness, you might need others to respect physical distance around you to safeguard your immunity. If you are an introvert, you may need more solitude than others. You could simply feel uneasy around certain people and prefer not to see them. A sibling may be behaving in an intrusive manner, or an adult child could expect too much of an ageing parent. 


Social media and devices could be taking up your precious time and mental or emotional energy and you need to boundary the time you allow for these. Working far more hours than is reasonable may be compromising your relationships with loved ones and leading you straight down the path to burnout. Perhaps you need to explicitly resist the sexual advances of a colleague or ask a boss to respect your religious standards. 


Saying no to one thing frees you to say yes to something else - saying yes to caring adequately for yourself and being your best self with those in your immediate circle of trust and intimacy. 


Boundaries = Self-care


Implementing boundaries is largely about self-care.  This may be difficult for you if your limits were ignored or overridden in your early years. If you grew up as a child of addicted parents, for example, your boundaries were likely deemed insignificant, and you didn't learn how to understand and set limits. The good news is that setting and respecting healthy boundaries is a skill that we can learn and pass on to our children.


Healthy boundaries are clear and flexible. They are not harsh brick walls that we erect between ourselves and another, but they are defined. Think of a healthy boundary like a fence with a gate. You get to decide if others can pass through the gate or not. For example, you may decide that you don't lend out your possessions to others, but on occasion, with a certain trusted friend you may choose to lend an item. You might share a personal issue with a few intimate connections who respect confidentiality, but not with everyone you interact with. If your boundaries are too porous, you may find that you give so readily that others become too dependent on you, or that your inability to say no is costing you your peace of mind and your health. 


Naturally, others don't know what our boundaries are unless we communicate them!


Setting boundaries is not easy


You may worry about appearing rude or unloving or you may fear loss of a relationship. The thought of implementing limits might terrify you if you gain your self-worth from being there for others 24/7. Sometimes, when we can't manage to do this for ourselves, counselling or psychotherapy can help us develop the confidence we need to go about setting limits. 


First you need to determine for yourself what the boundary looks like and how it will benefit you in the long run. Then it needs to be communicated calmly, clearly, honestly and assertively. Finally, the boundary is acted upon. For example, you may say, "It is important to me that you meet me at the agreed time. If you are running late, please let me know half an hour before." If this does not happen, you then need to uphold your boundary and ask to rearrange the meeting for another time. 


Some people are better at accepting your boundaries than others. When you communicate a new boundary, it can feel threatening to another person's sense of safety because they are used to you behaving in a certain way and resist the change. Often your boundaries will be questioned and tested. Others may push back, ignore the boundary, give you the silent treatment or try to rationalise why your boundary is unnecessary. Without acting upon a boundary, it is likely to be violated again, so it is up to you to stick to what you have set in place and restate your boundary as often as necessary. You may be tempted to over-explain your reasons for setting a limit, but this sends the message that it is negotiable. It is your right to determine what is and isn't healthy for you and it is enough to say, "this is what I need right now". 


Boundaries go both ways


Of course, we need to understand and respect others' limits too. An unhealthy boundary is one which intends to manipulate or control another person. It is healthy to remember that whilst we can communicate our wishes, others have sovereignty over their own lives and choices. Their thoughts, actions and behaviours are out of our control. 


We are only responsible for what we do, say, think, feel, and believe, and therein lies our freedom.


Photo by Jeremy Thomas 



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