In counseling we talk A LOT about boundaries. Boundaries with work, school, relationships, personal boundaries, and how to implement boundaries with people in our lives – like coworkers and friends.
Let’s first define what a boundary is and what it is not. Boundaries, by definition, are “lines that mark the limit of something” or to “limit the area of activity.” That’s just it; boundaries are limits and they tell us where to start and where to stop. When thinking about relationships or friendships of any kind, we want to think of boundaries as “where I end, and another person begins.”
4 Reasons Boundaries are Important
- They Improve and maintain your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
- You better understand your personal limits and zones of comfort.
- They provide opportunities to practice healthy communication.
- You learn how to say “no” to something/someone and not feel guilty.
5 Experiences When a Person Lacks Boundaries
- You may often feel bitter or defensive towards someone or a situation.
- You always say “yes” and then feel overwhelmed after saying “yes.”
- You often do things you’d prefer not to do because you feel obligated.
- You feel tired and burnt out.
- You can develop a low sense of self-worth.
3 Ways to Implement Boundaries
- Utilize assertive communication
- Identify your personal limits and communicate your expectations to the people in your life.
- If boundaries are violated, discuss natural consequences.
Ultimatums often sound like “If you don’t do this, then I will _______ (worst case scenario, or something hurtful). When someone presents a person with an ultimatum, it can be difficult to know what to do because they are expressing something deeply hurtful or impactful in a relationship.
Here is where a third option is most helpful; learn how to use and rely on boundaries that have consequences.
Boundaries with Consequences
Boundaries with consequences help everyone involved. The person implementing the boundary has the opportunity to practice healthy and assertive communication. While, the person with whom the boundary is being set has the opportunity to become a better version of themselves by respecting the boundary put in place.
A natural consequence is what happens as a result of a boundary being violated. For example, if a person consistently brings up a topic you don’t wish to discuss, and you ask them to stop, and they don’t stop, a natural consequence for that person is that you might get up and walk away from the conversation. You stated your expectation and set your boundary, but it was not respected. The person feeling uncomfortable or lonely is a natural consequence of their behavior.
If you’re considering setting a boundary within your relationship and fear that by doing so you might be at risk of harm, the first thing you should do is locate resources for keeping you safe. The National Domestic Violence hotline can be reached 24/7/365 at 800.799.SAFE (7233).
When we don’t implement consequences with the boundaries we put in place, we might as well not set up those boundaries to begin with. Now, these natural consequences don’t need to be anything extravagant, it could be a follow up conversation, it could be accepting someone’s apology (or apologize yourself if you violated a boundary). Consequences are not synonymous with punishment, rather it’s a word used to describe what happens after an event.
Another Way to Understand Boundaries
Boundaries are like fences around our personal space; they can be physical, emotional, based in communication, etc. Let’s say we have this fence that exists and it is there for a reason; to keep us safe, to keep us inside and others out. There is a gate in this fence and it’s very helpful because it helps us identify who comes in, how long they are allowed “in” and when they leave. If we don’t have a fence or our gate is always open, we are likely to experience a lot of offenses, feel intruded upon, and not know how to handle certain situations. However, when we use the gate as intended (open with people we trust, closed or cracked with people who have harmed us or people we don’t know yet), everybody stays safe and learns the expectations.
If any of this resonated with you and you are a resident of Colorado or Pennsylvania, our team of therapists is excellent at helping people establish better boundaries. An important piece of attending counseling is to become a better version of yourself and encourage other people in your life to do the same. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, relational tension, we can help! If you’re searching for PTSD counseling, counseling for college students, online counseling in Colorado or online counseling in Pennsylvania don’t hesitate to reach out today. One of our trained therapists can also meet with you prior to your first session for a free 15 minute phone consultation, to get your questions answered.