The Oxford Dictionary defines a boundary as “a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line,” which is a good description for personal boundaries too. Setting boundaries with others creates either emotional or physical space between people. Boundaries allow people to create and set personal limits to protect their emotional and physical well-being while creating safety in a relationship. People can work to establish healthy boundaries at work, with family members, and with friends – here’s how from a Hoboken-based therapist.
Breaking Down Boundaries
Boundaries vary from person to person and often depend on the type of relationship. For example, some relationships require firm boundaries, while others need boundaries that are more fluid. Think of different types of fences: some homes have short picket fences or chain-link fences, while others have tall wooden fences. Some fences have gates, and others are too tall to see over. Some homes might even have a moat surrounding them with a drawbridge and guards. Each of these is perfectly fine because it’s what the homeowner feels is necessary to protect him or herself. Boundaries are an emotional fence, they are how one protects themself, and their energy.
When trying to establish new boundaries, often people don’t know where to start. People can start by evaluating their different relationships, and how well they are working. Are their needs being met? Are they feeling supported, or cared for? Does the relationship feel balanced?
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For example, many ignore work schedules: checking emails after hours, or spending more time working than one is compensated for. Identifying this as a place where boundaries can improve is a great place to start.
It’s really important to mention that setting boundaries sometimes feels selfish or mean, but if done well it’s the exact opposite. Boundaries are a form of self-care that might be uncomfortable when initially setting, but in the long term, they are beneficial in allowing both sides of a relationship to flourish. A boundary is not always saying “no” to someone or something; rather, think of boundaries as a way of saying “not right now.”
Once these gaps have been spotted, one will need to start to identify the beliefs or thoughts that allow those boundaries to continue to be ignored or violated. Reflecting on the thoughts or feelings that stop someone from setting or maintaining boundaries with others will allow them to identify what they need to do personally in order to prepare to start establishing new boundaries.
For example, one might think “She’s been there for me, I need to be there for her too.” It’s important to practice flexibility and try to create new belief systems that will allow healthy boundaries to be established and maintained, so this new thought could be “She’s been there for me, and I want to be there for her too but I know that I cannot be available 24/7.” This will allow the individual to then identify times when they can be available to support their loved one.
Some additional things to consider:
- When someone starts to set boundaries in a relationship, the relationship will inevitably shift.
- When someone reacts negatively to new boundaries, it’s often more of a reflection of themselves than it is of the person setting the boundary.
- Setting boundaries is hard work, and it can also be rewarding work.
- Boundaries allow people to receive more of what they want and need in a relationship.
Establishing new boundaries is hard work, which is why it’s so important to really do some self-reflecting and understand one’s current boundaries (or lack thereof), and where growth and change need to take place. Once the blueprint has been drawn, it’s time to start building a foundation.
This can be done by reestablishing or initially setting boundaries. One might need to have conversations with loved ones, or peers to inform them that they are going to be setting new boundaries.
An example of this might be: “I know in the past that I was available for you after work hours, but moving forward I’m really trying to create more of a work-life balance. If you choose to send emails after 5PM, please know that I will respond to them when I am back at work the following morning.”
For some, maintaining boundaries can be even harder than setting them. It’s crucial to establish an understanding of why the boundary needs to be set, and then commit to upholding that. Remember, others’ resistance is not your responsibility: people may not like these boundaries at first, and that’s natural because they are used to getting their own way. If this is a new practice, it’s probably going to feel awkward, but that’s just evidence that this is a great opportunity to grow.