Boundaries…Boundaries…Boundaries…What are they? And are they Necessary?
You may be wondering, what are boundaries? For some the word boundaries may be a “buzz word” they’ve heard floating around lately and for others boundaries may sound intimidating or negative. Rest assured, boundaries are for your benefit and can assist with difficult, anxiety-provoking, and traumatic/stressful relationships. We can have boundaries with our families, our partner, our work, etc. Boundaries are like lines in the sand, we do not want them crossed and if they are crossed, there are consequences. Boundaries are our own personal rules for each relationship we have in our lives. To our core, we all have some sort of boundary. Many of us have internal boundaries for ourselves, such how we may present ourselves to others, how we reach out for support, and what we may do in public versus private. Although we may have more internal boundaries within ourselves, we may struggle to identify or set boundaries externally with the people in our lives. As a therapist, this is where I find that the problem lies for most people: setting boundaries and being assertive with others. Because life is always going to “life,” it is likely we have all experienced difficult relationships for various reasons as well as possible stressful and/or traumatic events in our lives that may have involved other people directly or indirectly.
How do we set boundaries; you may ask? Well, this, of course, can be difficult. If we are someone who grew up in a difficult, chaotic, dysfunctional, and/or enmeshed household, this is going to be a new skill to begin implementing, or at the very least, thinking about. We may have grown up in a household where privacy was not given or valued, or unable to attain due to limited space in the household, etc. We may not have had a safe space or person to talk to or even the materials to journal or write down our thoughts and feelings. OR, we may have had all of these things- our own bedroom, all the journals in the world, and other materials or resources, and still, boundaries were not respected in the household. We may have been told to “respect our elders,” “listen to our older siblings,” “do not speak unless spoken to,” growing up. These phrases can all be very unhealthy and toxic when elders and older siblings were disrespecting us and making us uncomfortable mentally and/or physically. Whatever the case may be, you now have the power to decide if this is something you’d like to implement into your life. It is important to note, setting boundaries will drastically change your life and your relationships with others.
Below are a few examples to look through that could be typical occurrences in your daily life- take a moment to think about how you may respond:
Example 1: A neighbor comes outside and begins a conversation with you as you are rushing to a doctor’s appointment you are already late for…. what do you do?
Example 2: Your mom, unexpectedly, comes over as you are walking in the door from a long, tiring work day. You didn’t plan for her to come over and you want time to yourself. What do you do?
Example 3: You go to visit your longtime friend and they mention a restaurant that is above your intended budget. What do you do?
It is important to note in all of the situations above, you remain honest and assertive. If you don’t have a moment to talk, say it. If you do not want company, make that clear. If you do not have the money to go to an expensive restaurant, verbalize it. These can be all difficult conversations and, of course, are going to be challenging if you have never done this before. But remember, you are responsible for setting your boundaries and sticking to them. If we do not uphold our own boundaries with others, how do we expect others to respect us?
Of course, it is okay to change your mind as time goes on. It is okay to adjust boundaries if your relationship with the specific person is improving or feels healthier. The more you enforce your boundaries, hopefully, the more you will enjoy your time around the people in your life. Boundaries are not just for unhealthy relationships; they are also for all the healthy relationships in our lives. This can get a bit confusing- with healthy relationships, our guard is probably down, we feel more comfortable and accepting of plans/time spent together. It is important to check in with your body as you are with these healthier relationships- ask yourself how do I feel in this moment? What does my body and mind need? You may be looking forward to spending time with a friend or family member but need to set parameters around how long you will be present. Our time is valuable and the way we decompress and spend time with ourselves to recharge is important. Time with ourselves is invaluable and much needed whether you consider yourself an “introvert” or “extrovert.”
Another helpful way to set boundaries is to let the following breakdown guide you:
I feel ____ (name your emotion)
When you ____ (describe what they are doing)
Because _____ (why)
I need _____ (state what you need here)
If not, I will ______ (consequence if boundary is not respected)
This could look like the following:
“I feel overwhelmed and anxious
When you raise your voice and start cussing at me
Because it makes me feel uncomfortable
I need you to respect me and have conversations at a level tone without curse words
If not, I will remove myself from the conversation such as by hanging up the phone or leaving the room when it occurs.”
You may find yourself overwhelmed during this season as many holidays approach. For some people, holidays mean seeing and spending much more time around family members and old friends. For others, it may be a quieter time due to estranged relationships or physical distance separating them from family or others. Holidays can be difficult if we’ve lost a loved one, if we are mourning or grieving a death, and it is important, whether we are around others or not, that we allow ourselves times to honor them and honor ourselves. If this relates to you, you may need to think about boundaries around answering questions or discussing the loss of your loved one. This may sound strange at first- but it can be emotionally and physically exhausting if we feel that others are constantly asking or expecting us to speak of this. Setting boundaries may look like saying, “Thank you for asking, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing or talking about that right now.” Or, it could look like, “I really appreciate you checking in on me, but I don’t feel like talking about that right now, maybe another day when I feel more open and present for this kind of conversation.” Everyone’s situation is different but noting that we may also very much appreciate discussing and sharing about our past loved ones and that is more than okay. Being aware and gentle with ourselves is the ultimate goal. Remembering, we also do not have to answer intrusive questions about our personal lives when a relative or distant friend may ask. Consider what your boundaries may look and sound like if this were to occur.
Although holidays may be especially challenging or difficult, remember what you have control of. We, as human beings, can control our responses to our own thoughts and emotions. We can control our boundaries and have the power to remove ourselves from unhealthy and toxic dynamics with help from healthy relationships, resources, therapists, etc. For more resources and reading material on boundaries, please take a look at some of my favorites listed below!
*Disclaimer* If you are currently in a traumatic, abusive, or unsafe relationships or situation, it can be especially difficult and/or impossible to do what is mentioned above. Boundaries can begin being set when we are physically distanced (different home, environment, etc) from the person(s). If this relates to you, boundaries may have to wait until you are not actively living in this environment and are safe.
Set Boundaries, Find Peace By: Nedra Glover Tawwab
Boundaries: When To Say Yes and When To Say No By: Dr. Henry Could & Dr. John Townsend
The Set Boundaries Workbook By: Nedra Glover Tawwab