Boundaries for Beginners

Boundaries. A popular therapy & self-care buzz word that’s thrown around all the time. Often boundaries are presented with the metaphor of a fence separating your yards from your neighbors. You are responsible to water your own garden & take care of what’s in your yard, regardless of what’s going on in your neighbors’ side. That’s lovely, but what does that mean?

We could spend many blogs talking about boundaries, but for the sake of simplicity, at their core, boundaries are a combination of a request + a commitment to yourself for the aim of taking care of yourself. Let’s break that down:

Request: Asking someone to do something or refrain from doing something. Making a clear request about your expectations sets you up for success. Other people can’t read your mind, nor is it fair to punish others for request we have not communicated. Remember, the other person has the right to say yes, no, or let’s negotiate to the request you present.

Examples: “Please don’t yell at me” or “Please be here by 3pm”.

Commitment to yourself: This is what you will do to take care of yourself if the other person is not willing or able to agree to your request. This piece of the puzzle is essential, and is the most neglected part of setting & maintaining boundaries. When clients say “They don’t respect my boundaries!” or “My boundaries aren’t working!” it’s usually because they have not followed through on their responsibility to themselves. The only person you can control is yourself.

Examples: “If you speak to me that way, I will leave the conversation until we can speak calmly to each other.” or “I’ll be leaving at 3pm, so if you aren’t here on time, you’ll need to find another ride.”

Boundaries exist for your self-care & enable you to live within your values. They are not intended to change another person’s behaviors. At the end of the day, a boundary may have an impact on how another person treats you, but the end goal of successful boundaries is to take care of yourself. Successful boundaries will help you look in the mirror and feel good about how you behaved, whether the other person “respected your boundary” or not.

On the boundary struggle bus? You are not alone. Boundaries are hard work and take lots of practice. Reach out if you’d like some support taking the next step toward a healthy, boundaried life.

Boundary Myths

Many people aren’t taught what boundaries are or how to properly set them. Just like any new skill, learning to set boundaries can feel clumsy and awkward at first. As you learn how to set boundaries, you may run into some common myths:

1. Setting boundaries is mean.

I hear this one a lot, “I don’t want to be mean, but… I feel so rude!” When you are used to accommodating other people's’ needs and ignoring your own, setting boundaries can feel cold. Boundaries are not meant to control or manipulate others, they are intended to protect you from being taken advantage of.

2. Boundaries are punishment.

While there may be natural consequences involved in boundaries, they are not intended to be punitive in nature. Boundaries exist to say, “here is my line in the sand, please don’t cross it. If you do cross it, I will need to ____ in order to take care of myself.” Boundaries exist to protect and care for the boundary maker, not punish the boundary breaker.

3. Boundaries are selfish.

People that struggle to set and maintain boundaries often also struggle with disappointing others. In her research on vulnerability, Brene Brown found that the most compassionate people were also the most boundaried. Setting and keeping boundaries allows you to have your needs and self-care met, allowing you to be more genuinely present to the emotional state of others. Think of how airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else; it is not selfish to protect yourself.

4. Boundaries are permanent.

You have the right to change your mind at any time. If a boundary isn’t working or something changes, boundaries can always be renegotiated.

5. People won’t respect my boundaries.

Boundaries are not designed to change or control other people’s behavior. The only thing you can control is yourself and the only boundary you can successfully enforce is your own. Boundaries do not depend on other people bending to your wishes, but rather on your ability to consistently follow through on your needs. Other people respecting your boundaries is much less important than you respecting yourself enough to keep them.