Help! What are boundaries in relationships?
I often get asked about boundaries in the therapy room. How do I get better at setting boundaries? I feel guilty when I try to set boundaries? I am afraid to set boundaries; what if this ends the relationship?
We have all experiences when relationship and felt resentment or the guilty feeling creeps in and we end up behaving in a way that meets the other persons needs. Sometimes, we don’t know that we are giving up our own needs and sacrificing wellbeing at the same time.
Remember, creating healthy boundaries is a skill, and unfortunately, many of us haven’t learned these skills. Thinking about your boundaries (i.e. what I need, what makes me feel comfortable, what actions deplete my energy) is an active process, one which takes time to identify and change. We might pick up pointers here and there from experience or through watching others. But for many of us, boundary-building is a relatively new concept and a challenging one.
In this blog, I want to explore the What, Why, Benefits and tips to set healthy boundaries in relationships.
What are boundaries? Healthy versus Unhealthy?
According to the dictionary, a boundary is “a line which marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.”
When we apply this to our own personal boundaries, it means knowing and understanding what your limits are. Boundaries are rules or guidelines that tell others how we want to be treated — what is acceptable and what isn’t.
What do Healthy boundaries look Like?
A healthy boundary can be a request for someone to change their behaviour (for example, Please don’t shaut at me or don’t lie to me). Or a boundary can be something you do to protect yourself (for example, leaving the room or blocking a phone number).
What do unhealthy boundaries look like?
Unhealthy boundaries involve a disregard for your own and others’ values, wants, needs, and limits. They can also lead to potentially abusive dating/romantic relationships and increase the chances of other types of abusive relationships as well.
Here are some examples of what unhealthy boundaries may look like:
- Disrespecting other people’s values, beliefs, and opinions when you do not agree with them.
- Not saying “no” or not accepting when others say “no.”
- Feeling like you are responsible for other people’s feelings and/or happiness.
- Feeling like you are responsible for “fixing” or “saving” others.
- Touching people without their permission.
- Engaging in sexual activity without clear consent from the other person.
What are the benefits of working on healthy boundaries?
Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life.
Here are some of the benefits:
- Good mental health
- Positive emotional wellbeing
- Develop independence.
- Influence other people’s behaviour- in a positive way.
- Avoidance of Burnout
- Develop your own identity, values, needs without guilt.
Why do we repeat unhealthy boundaries patterns in relationships?
One way of looking at this is from Brene Brown book Daring Greatly. She talks about the process and challenges of setting boundaries. For instance, when women assert their boundaries, the “shame gremlins” that appear: “Careful saying no. You will really disappoint people. Don’t let them down, Be a good girl, make everyone happy”. Whereas, for men, the gremlins whisper, “Man up, a real guy could take this on and then some. Is the little boy too tired?”.
Having these thoughts can make it very difficult to assert your own boundaries (for example, I am so tired, but I feel guilty if I don’t go out with my friend). In this example the Guilt feeling drives us to neglect our needs, wants, wishes. We have learned to get rid of this pain by giving up our own resources.
Another aspect that keeps us repeating the same old patterns may stem from earlier childhood experiences. As we grow up with internalise core beliefs mainly received from important people in our lives. These messages are like blueprints in our unconscious. It is from these blueprints that we repeat patterns in relationships. For example- not being able to say no maybe a result in an early message received that “if we say no the person might not love me”. A Psychotherapist helps you explore these blueprints and develop a better understanding as to why you might be repeating unhealthy patterns in relationships.
Tips to help you set healthy boundaries.
- Name your limits.
- Observe your own feelings.
- Practice assertive skill i.e. be clear about what you want.
- Allow yourself the space to say NO. Give Yourself Permission!!!
- Don’t beat yourself up if you find it hard to set boundaries in relationship. The more you practice these skills the easier it will get.
About the Author: Shaunna is a Psychotherapist and co-founder of City Therapy. She works with clients to help them identify their needs and develop the skills to set healthy boundaries in relationships. To contact Shaunna please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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