Who are we without healthy boundaries?
How many of us say 'yes' when we mean 'no'? How many of us do too much for others only to be left depleted and resentful? And, why are we doing it?
Creating healthy boundaries in any relationship, whether that be with your child, your husband, or your boss, is vital. It tells people exactly what you will allow and how far you are willing to be pushed. Boundaries are about keeping you safe and about taking care of yourself. We usually think of self-care as eating healthily, exercising, and getting good sleep, but without good healthy boundaries our mental health can suffer, leading to depression and anxiety.
What are healthy boundaries?
This can vary depending on the relationship and type of relationship. For example, a professional boundary would be the relationship between a counsellor and a client. The counsellor and client would have boundaries in place where they would not follow each other on social media, or call each other socially between appointments. In a romantic relationship, an example of a boundary may be that one partner may have asked the other for a night alone one night each week. It is expected that the other partner would respect that boundary. Another example is one of a parent and child relationship. Teenagers are constantly pushing our boundaries, and our limits can be tested at times. For example, we might tell our teenager that they are not allowed to go to a party, and yet they still go. They have pushed our boundary and we need to re-establish that boundary. Or, they may begin to speak to us badly in a way that we do not like. Again, we need to be firm, set boundaries, and stick to them.
A huge part of creating boundaries is about knowing yourself. How can we let people know whether something is OK with us if we don't really know ourselves? We all have different needs, wants, desires, and feelings. Creating healthy boundaries is about knowing what they are.
What do we need?
Without establishing healthy boundaries, we can easily allow other people’s needs, wants, and feelings to override our own. Not having healthy boundaries may be a sign that we have lost our sense of who we are, and have become enmeshed in another person’s needs.
Establishing boundaries is about exploring how we feel when asked to do something or treated in a way that we do not like. The boundary may be about someone crossing the line of your physical space, for instance, a co-worker touching you in a way that you do not like. It may also be an emotional boundary, for instance, a co-worker asking you to pick up the slack continually when you are already busy. Giving yourself permission to say no and feeling guilt-free is ok. Try saying "I need to think about what you have asked of me", and pause before answering. Saying no does not mean that you are being confrontational. For example, if you had a member of your family that was constantly calling you, asking you for favours and then treating you badly, what would your response be? This kind of example takes exploration.
You might need to ask why you are constantly giving in to demands, who is it benefiting, and why you are allowing yourself to be treated badly. Maybe you have a need to be liked. Is it about low self-esteem, or do you want to keep the peace all of the time? That, in itself, can feel exhausting. Counselling can help with this kind of self-exploration. Sometimes, we are so entrenched in a relationship that we can't fully understand why we continue to allow certain behaviours from people.
If, for example, yours was a childhood where your parents did not allow self-expression or encourage healthy boundaries, then it may be an area that you struggle with. In counselling, you can begin to understand where underlying beliefs have come from, and understanding can make it easier to begin to develop healthy boundaries.
Once you have explored what is going on, you can then begin the work of exploring what it is that you will allow and how much you are ok with.
What are your boundaries?
This is about holding firm in your beliefs and being firm if you are being mistreated. A lot of this takes time and practice if it is something that you are not used to. Having honest conversations with people where you express your needs, as well as keeping in mind the other person's feelings, can be difficult, but is ultimately worth it. Eventually, this will bring about peace in yourself. To know that your actions are true to yourself is worth holding onto.
If you are struggling with boundaries in relationships, then seek counselling. A counsellor will help you to understand any deeper, underlying issues that may be at work in preventing you from establishing healthy boundaries in your relationships.