Boundaries are guidelines around how you want to be treated, think of them as rules about what you will tolerate and what you won't. Setting and maintaining boundaries is a skill that is learned but many people have not been taught how to do this in childhood and therefore as adults find navigating boundaries difficult. Boundaries are necessary in all aspects of our lives and when our boundaries are non-existent or too flexible we find ourselves being treated in ways that aren't acceptable to us, often making us feel resentful and as though others are taking advantage of us, even if this isn't their aim. Having defined and firm boundaries that you communicate clearly actually helps reduce anxiety in others as well as they know where they stand with you and how to interact with you without having to guess what mood or frame of mind you are in.
It can be hard to set boundaries with others, especially if you are someone that wants to be liked by everyone and has a tendency to people please. We worry that by saying no to others they will be angry, think we are rude or a bad friend but if we continually say yes to everyone we find ourselves overwhelmed, burnt out and often physically ill when our bodies determine that they cannot continue trying to do so much. This causes a situation where we end up having to cancel things and let people down which inevitably makes us feel awful about ourselves and ignites our inner critic, leading to even more difficulties setting boundaries going forwards. When we do communicate healthy boundaries we show others that we value our mental & physical health and wellbeing which in turn allows them to respect us and treat us how we wish to be treated, and also communicates to them that it is okay for them to have boundaries and limitations also.
Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
Boundaries are super important for healthy relationships, and this applies to relationships with our partners, our friends, our families.. everyone. Anybody that has been in an abusive relationship will know that boundaries were crossed and your limits were not respected by that person, and it leaves you, the victim, feeling awful. To start setting new boundaries in relationships it's important to think about how things are now.. are there times when you say yes and you would rather have said no? Does that make you feel bitter, angry or resentful? If so this probably means your boundary was crossed and it will be helpful to think about ways to communicate how you expect others to treat you in the future. Our emotions are telling us something, so it's important to pause and listen rather than to impulsively push them away, even if it feels uncomfortable. Think about what is acceptable to you in your relationships with others... for example, a friend that won't take no for answer is probably violating your boundary and making it difficult for you to stand up to them. Remember, it does not mean that you are a bad or mean person for standing up to someone and setting boundaries, it just means you are valuing your own health & wellbeing rather than putting others needs above yours.
Healthy Boundaries with Yourself
We all have a relationship with ourselves as well as with others in our lives, and boundaries are just as important here. These are often referred to as our internal boundaries and are a bit like having self discipline and healthy management of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Often we know what we need to do to improve our lives or change our mindset but in the moment we override our sensible brain with impulsive behaviour and the desire for immediate gratification. I'm sure we have all had moments in our lives where we say we will do one thing but then our resolve diminishes and we go back on our word, and cross our own internal boundaries. When we do this we are showing ourselves that we do not value our own words or desires and this negatively impacts our self esteem and how we view ourselves. On the flip side if we say we will do something and follow through then we feel great about our commitment & motivation, we begin to trust ourselves and believe that we have integrity, all of which contribute to improving our sense of self worth. When trying to implement healthy internal boundaries it is important to be your own best friend and come from a place of encouragement and compassion, and not to shame or judge yourself even if you make a mistake or fall short. Kindness is a key factor in bringing about change and, in contrast, criticism & judgement keeps us stuck where we are, the important thing is to keep trying so if things don't fall in to place straight away, it's okay to try again.
Where do I begin?
In my next blog I am going to cover how to go about actually defining, setting and communicating boundaries effectively, but you can't do any of that until you have acknowledged areas of your life where your boundaries are lacking or aren't being respected. Self awareness is the first step in the process therefore it is important to begin by noticing how you are feeling.. What interactions with others are bringing up difficult emotions for you? When do you feel anger, bitterness or resentment?
What past situations do you dwell on and wish you had dealt with differently?
Reflecting on all of these questions should help you to establish where you may need to work on your boundaries, and next time I will cover how to use these answers to implement your new boundaries going forwards.
I am an Integrative Therapist who works remotely online with millennials who are anxious, lost, stressed or depressed. I work collaboratively with people to support them in their emotional wellbeing, to develop skills in self-care and to foster a deeper understanding of themselves. If you would like to find out how I can help you to understand your emotions better, please book a free consultation to see if we are well suited to work together.
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