Boundary: “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.” -Merriam-Webster
WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES?
In order to establish boundaries, it’s important to understand what they are and where they come from. Healthy boundaries in relationships are a delicate two-step. We dance with partners in many relationship dynamics including our romantic partners as well as our bosses, coworkers, friends, and family members. While it’s true that some people just instinctively set healthy boundaries and “the dance” comes naturally to them, others may struggle with understanding boundaries and how to establish them. Some end up repeatedly stumbling in relationship after relationship.
Often, boundary-setting patterns are learned at such a young age may not even be aware of these patterns or moves. If you have no boundaries, you have no moves to help you get a sense of yourself apart from other people. Therefore, you may have trouble determining how to keep others out. You don’t know how to make sure your needs are met because you are putting everyone else’s needs first. On the other hand, if your boundaries are too rigid, then you may struggle to let anybody in (or let yourself out) and you have no moves to experience meaningful connections with others.
The good news is that it’s never too late to become a better dancer. In healthy relationships—and in a healthy life—functional boundary-setting skills are necessary. Having healthy boundaries includes knowing and understanding your limits.
WHAT DO BOUNDARIES LOOK LIKE?
Now that we’ve discussed what boundaries are and where they may originate, we can explore what they look like. Within our lives, there are countless opportunities to develop boundaries. They may range from safety boundaries such as not drinking unless you have a designated driver to emotional boundaries like not allowing someone to tear you down. If boundaries are something that everyone has, then why is it so hard to develop them in regard to relationships?
Often, you may not even realize you need to set a boundary until someone does something that harms you.
For example, a friend may tell a joke at your expense that hurts your feelings in the process. You might decide that it is not something you are comfortable with, so you can set a number of possible boundaries. You might decide that the first boundary is to talk to your friend and ask them to stop. From there, you can adjust or change the boundary depending on what happens. From then on, you know that this is a boundary and if you encounter a similar situation in the future, it will be easier for you to address the issue.
It is important to take the time to explore or list boundaries when it comes to relationships—all relationships (even close ones). As a relationship progresses, new boundaries can be developed as needed or old ones can be altered. For example, when you first meet someone, you may have a lot of boundaries but as your relationship grows and you develop trust, then those boundaries may begin to change.
Boundaries can look very different within various life settings. In order to establish boundaries, it’s important to acknowledge these settings as well.
BOUNDARIES WITHIN DIFFERENT LIFE SETTINGS:
Boundaries within the family allow each member of the family to understand their place within the system. For example, parents are the rule setters and enforcers of a child. A child understands their role due to the boundaries that have been put into place by their parent(s). Furthermore, as a child matures or transitions to college, they may begin to place healthy boundaries on their parents as well.
Boundaries are especially important when dealing with a person within the family that is struggling with an addiction. In this instance, setting boundaries prevents you from enabling an unhealthy individual. Evaluate your family dynamics. What boundaries can you identify? What boundaries may be necessary?
Many people have felt as if they have been involved in a one-sided friendship. This happens when you feel like you offer support (emotional or other) to a friend, but when you need help or social support, your friend is unavailable or busy. However, this is something that you might not realize right away. Likewise, it is not typical to list out all your boundaries with someone when you first meet them, so what do you do in this case? Be aware of these changes; if you notice red flags or continuous close calls to your boundary lines, then it’s time to make some healthy changes.
Establish and stick to your boundaries. This will allow those who are closest to you to be the people you can rely on and trust. Ultimately, these boundaries will teach friends how you expect to be treated and relieves stress.
Boundaries within an intimate partner relationship are one of the most important boundaries to create due to the nature of these relationships; your partner is most likely the person you are around the most.
Relationships should be about two individuals who come together to form a team rather than coming together to lose their individuality. Boundaries prevent you from losing a piece of yourself.
An example of a boundary within a romantic relationship is that you and your partner can explain what occurs when each of you gets frustrated and how you’d like to navigate it. If you have determined that you are bad at being kind or polite when you are irritated, then a healthy boundary may be allowing time to process and cool down before talking extensively. An argument will be less likely to occur because of the boundary created.
Furthermore, to prevent the sting of being hurt, start creating boundaries at the beginning of relationships rather than waiting until the harm has been done.
HOW TO BUILD BOUNDARIES
How do you establish healthy boundaries? Boundaries can be made and created in different ways for people depending on the circumstances. The following are 3 main ways to help give you some insight on building better boundaries:
Name your limits
It can be challenging to set a good boundary if you don’t know where you stand. Think about what you can tolerate and accept and what feels uncomfortable or creates stress within you. Those stressful, uncomfortable feelings are what help us to identify what our limits are.
Tune into your feelings
Two big red flags or cue feelings that can help identify when you are having boundary issues are discomfort and resentment. When these feelings arise, ask yourself, “What is it about this situation, or the person’s expectation, that is bothering me?” Resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated. It’s often a sign if you are pushing yourself beyond your limits because you feel guilty (I want to be a husband or wife), or someone else is imposing their expectations on you.
Move relationships into the gray zone
Dysfunctional relationships can be very rigid. Each person plays one role and any attempt to behave differently is met with indignation or even aggression. Functional relationships begin with the understanding that real intimacy isn’t really built on stiff rules; most things can’t be reduced to black or white.
People with black and white thinking seem to habitually shut people out to protect themselves, dive into ill-considered closeness, or both. The solution is to move relationships into the “gray” zone. Social choreography is ever-changing. Unlike dysfunction, healthy intimacy will pull back, bounce back, and create infinite, fresh configurations.
Trusting yourself and the rhythm of each relationship (rather than insisting on rigid consistency) will keep you from panicking when someone’s boundaries move a bit toward or away from you. Insist on continuous connection with just one individual—yourself—who knows where to draw the boundaries on any given day with any given person.
The following is a full list of 10 steps on how to establish boundaries as developed by Dr. Dana Gionta:
Name your limits.
Tune into your feelings.
Give yourself permission.
Consider your past and present.
Make self-care a priority.
(Margarita Tarakovsky, PsychCentral)
These steps can be used within any environment or relationship to help you create boundaries. Once boundaries are created, you will be able to know where you stand as an individual and as a person involved in many relationships.
Like any new skill, assertively communicating your boundaries takes practice. Try starting small with a boundary that isn’t super intimidating or challenging for you. You can incrementally increase to more challenging issues from there.
Respect is at the center of every healthy relationship. Be sure that you begin with respecting your own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept and be direct in expressing to others what those limits are. Give your relationships the opportunity to create the yin, yang, and flow of reciprocity.
Setting boundaries is investing in yourself. In the process of creating and maintaining boundaries, you learn more about who you are and who you want to be. Boundaries do not prevent us from experiencing life, rather they allow us to experience life to its fullest on our own terms.
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for, gives me freedom.” Henry Cloud
If you need help further understanding ways to establish healthy boundaries in your own life, book our online counseling and coaching services by visiting: Nayaclinics.com/book-online
About Sam Nabil
Sam offers therapy in Boston and Boston Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety. Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university, Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com
Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world. Naya Clinics also offers Online marriage counseling, online therapy, and online life coaching.
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