Healthy Boundaries and How to Set Them
Updated: Feb 7
We talk a lot about boundaries in therapy. So what are they and how do they work?
I used to think that boundaries meant being able to say no to things. I can be a dreadful people pleaser and I used to end up saying yes to stuff to make people like me. I got exhausted and resentful as a result (and it didn’t make people like me!) I have got better at saying no, but boundaries are more than that. For me boundaries often ended up being angry things, “you can’t do this to me” or “I don’t want you to behave like this”.
I am going to be honest here, it is only recently that I have realised that boundaries aren’t about other people, they are about me! Yeah I know, I am a therapist, I feel like I am supposed to know this stuff already!
So, what are boundaries? They are essentially physical and emotional limits that you don’t want other people to cross. They are an invisible line that separates you from me. It separates your space, feelings needs and responsibilities from others. They tell people how you want to be treated and what is acceptable and what isn’t.
Tips for healthy boundaries
Know your limits: Work out what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Be specific.
Know your values: We are all different and this is often determined by our personal values. For instance, if you value family over everything that might impact how late you are prepared to stay at work. Know what is important to you.
Trust your gut: If you feel uncomfortable don’t bury it. Pay attention. For example, feeling resentful might mean you are being taken advantage of.
Have self respect: If you always give in to others are you showing as much respect to your needs as you are to others?
7 Types of Boundaries
Boundaries come in different shapes and sizes. Here are 7 Examples.
Physical : Someone sits too close, you can ask them to move away or move away yourself.
Emotional: You are allowed to have your own thoughts and feelings. They are yours and they are valid. You are not responsible for other peoples’ feelings!
Time: This protects how you spend your time and can stop you being overworked and frazzled. For example you can keep work emails to work time!
Material and financial: Protects your resources and possessions. For example people borrowing your stuff without asking or relying on you to meet their financial needs.
Sexual: Ok we are talking about consent. It is also ok to say what you like and to ask for what you need.
Social: It is absolutely ok to choose what you drink and when you leave.
Non-Negotiable: These are the deal breakers and might look different for everyone. A common deal breaker might be fidelity in a relationship, or a safe environment for children.
Some things aren’t really boundaries!
These examples of what are proper boundaries and what aren’t is from the Facebook account of @thelessstressed lawyer. I think these are brilliant and were a real eye opener for me.
Not a Boundary: “You can’t email me at weekends”
Proper Boundary: “If you email me at weekends, I won’t answer till Monday
Not a Boundary: You can’t talk to me like that.
Proper Boundary: If you talk to me like that I will hang up the phone
Not a Boundary: You need to respect my time
Proper Boundary: I will end the meeting at the scheduled time
Not a Boundary: You need to be more considerate and thoughtful
Proper Boundary: I would like you to do these specific things for me and if you don’t, that’s your call , but I won’t invest in this relationship
Not a Boundary: You need to be on time
Proper Boundary: If you are late, we will not wait for you
Not a Boundary: You need to give me less work
Proper Boundary: I will not work more than X hours a week
Boundaries are not demands.
They are not expectations.
They are not ultimatums.
They are not idle threats.
Boundaries are a particular course of action YOU will take to take care of yourself in a particular set of circumstances.
Its about what YOU do, not about what THEY do
And there it is right there. Boundaries are not, as I thought, about what other people do. It is about what I do. Its about protecting my time and my space and taking responsibility for that. This was the game changer.
If you want to talk about setting boundaries a counselling session can be a wonderful place to do that. Feel free to contact me via the Contact Page.