Boundaries: A path to empowerment

A common theme with many clients is exploring what boundaries mean and, more importantly, how we implement them. Many clients have lived through an experience, whether from childhood or a later intimate relationship, where meeting someone else's needs has left them without any boundary setting at all. Many clients sit with feelings of anger when others will not stick to the boundaries they set. Furthermore, the most common question raised by clients that we end up exploring together, is "Does it make me selfish to want my needs met or to have boundaries?"


Redefining selfishness

Firstly, reframing the notion with a client that they are not being 'selfish' is a huge hurdle for some. Clients have often been told this exact thing (or various other similar emotionally abusive phrases) their whole lives or through much of a significant relationship. Therefore, breaking this cycle takes a lot of self-compassion and psych-education.

Some of the education may happen in the room. I have been privileged to undertake and continue as an outsourced counsellor for victim support, so have a lot of domestic abuse experience as well as personal experience. Some is by gently recommending books or websites as and when I can feel the client is ready to validate themselves with what they have experienced. 

Wants and needs

Within relationships and life, we have a list of these in our heads but, for many clients, really understanding themselves and writing these down or verbalising them can be tricky. How do they know what they want or need when they have concentrated on someone else's so much?

Again, it's about patience and tailoring the experience to the client. As an integrative therapist, I am lucky to be flexible in style. However, as many clients are visual learners (neurodivergent or not – see my specialist articles), I use a lot of whiteboards and coloured pens to spark interest in the brain as I find staring at your list tends to make you self-assess and find clarity to your thoughts more easily.

There is also an acceptance that these may change over time, as the client becomes more confident in knowing who they are. This is an ever-changing life journey, so no one is holding you to what you decide now other than yourself! 

Boundary setting

What do we mean about boundary setting? For me, this is knowing what my wants and needs are and knowing which ones are so solid that I want them met with consequences.

Take for example a recent client who wishes her partner to take on organising one date night a month for them. On exploring the hurt and pain, the client decided this was a 'make or break' solid boundary for her. After communicating the boundary and the consequence well to her partner, he persistently fails to meet this boundary.

Each week, she attends the session feeling hurt and angry that he broke the boundary she set for the relationship. She tries harder (parent/child dynamic classic), to get him to stick to the boundary and 'help him' see how important it is. None of this makes him stick to the boundary. 

Getting someone to meet your boundaries

So why is the partner crossing her boundaries? How can she get him to stick to it? The sadness and yet internal growing strength comes from exploring how this isn't how boundaries work.

Boundary setting works as follows:

  • you set them
  • you decide what they are
  • you decide the personal experience of how important they are for you
  • you decide how they can be broken and how many times is acceptable to you
  • you decide the consequence (this may be the end of the relationship)
  • you communicate them clearly


You must sit back and see if someone meets them. That is their choice no matter how much we want to control the outcome.

Your boundaries are yours to stick to

Ultimately, as much as we may not like the outcome, boundary setting is about you sticking to your boundaries and making sure the consequences of solid boundaries are stuck to. Otherwise, you will find your boundaries are crossed permanently and life can feel out of your control.

None of this is easy, simple or necessarily a happy painless process. But the overall inner calm and strength you start to feel from understanding yourself more, your worth more and the power and control you realise you have over your own life, is a worthwhile journey and I am always privileged to join someone on theirs.

These are just my personal thoughts, if any of this resonates and you wish to explore this more, please contact me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Southampton SO16 & Chandlers Ford SO53
Written by Zaenia Rogers
Southampton SO16 & Chandlers Ford SO53

I am an Integrative Counsellor, I have also worked extensively with clients with anxiety, depression and trauma especially within the domestic abuse. I work as a third party Counsellor for Victim Support as well as specialising in clients or the partners/family members of those with ADHD and ASD Level 1.

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