Why Are Boundaries Important?
You have probably heard boundaries discussed before but you might not know exactly what is meant by them or how to begin setting a boundary. Boundaries are important for everyone. They help us protect ourselves and help to define what belongs to you and what belongs to someone else. Think of them as a line in the sand that cannot be crossed. They are a way of standing up for our internal values—they define what is “ok” and what is “not ok.”
They are personal. Your feelings, your body, and your boundaries belong to you. Boundaries are an important part of self-care, just like getting proper rest or nutrition. Boundaries protect who we are. And, just like we evolve and change over time so can our boundaries.
What is a Boundary?
Boundaries can either be “soft” or “hard.” A soft boundary is more fluid and dependent on the situation and circumstances at hand. For example, you might say that you will not stay up late or go out during the week but then make an exception for a birthday or special event. Or, you may not answer work emails on the weekend and then decide you need to in order to take a vacation. A hard boundary is strict and never to be crossed. For example, saying you will never drink and drive or leaving a significant other who physically hurts you.
Trauma and Boundaries
Trauma can damage boundaries. If you have experienced trauma or have an insecure attachment style, you may be less likely to take action to defend yourself. Painful or overwhelming experiences can make it difficult for people to say “no” to others who ask too much of them or don’t see or respect our boundaries. When your boundaries are crossed it can feel like your personal space is being intruded on or you are being disrespected. If you have suffered from trauma and are struggling to set boundaries, we encourage you to seek the help of a counselor or therapist who can assist. Counselors at CW Psychological Services regularly work with trauma victims on setting boundaries and establishing a self-care routine.
Boundaries and Anxiety/Depression
Boundaries can be a great resource for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression. Establishing boundaries can help to ease some of your anxious feelings and help you to find more safety in your life. Maybe you need a heads-up before a family event or some time to plan or maybe you need quiet time to yourself each night to clear your head.
Boundaries can be a great tool for depression sufferers. They can help to keep you on track, find some structure, and keep you more mentally healthy so that you are less likely to experience depression symptoms.
How to Set Boundaries
1.) Focus on YOU— A lot of times we compromise our safety or comfort to accommodate others. We might postpone setting a boundary because we are worried it may upset someone else in our lives. But, the reality is setting boundaries is a great way to grow a healthy relationship with others. Boundaries enhance self-respect and self-love and allow you to feel safer with others.
2.) Trust Your Gut — All too often we brush off that uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomachs, only to regret it later. “I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to that.” Part of creating boundaries is prioritizing your comfort and safety. What do you need? What makes you feel safe?
3.) Say It Out Loud — Sit with your emotions and ask yourself, “what do I need right now?” Speak it out loud to yourself. Identify your limits so that you can better communicate them to others. “What do I need to feel supported?”
4.) Be Consistent — If you are constantly shifting your boundaries to appease others in your life, then you are showing others that they don’t have to respect your boundaries either. Communicate what you need and stand your ground.
5.) Use “I” Statements — Saying “I feel ___ when ___ “ and establishing what you need at that moment can help you to sort out your emotions and determine what you need.
6.) Be Direct — It can be difficult to take the step to set boundaries but it is so important. Think it through and figure out what you will say and how you will approach it. Then, talk calmly, directly, and with clarity.
7.) Start Small — If you are feeling uneasy about approaching boundaries with a loved one, start small. Identify one boundary that you can set and share it. For example, maybe it is “Please don’t wake me up when you get home” or “Please say goodbye to me before you leave the house.”
8.) Get Support — Getting help from a counselor or therapist is a great way to identify and establish healthy boundaries. You can also turn to a trusted friend or family member. Maybe you can cheer each other on as you set one boundary each.
Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?
Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online or telehealth therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call at (610) 308-7575. We are here for you.