Establishing healthy personal boundaries for ourselves can feel counterintuitive due to cultural and social preconceptions. There is a common notion that by not setting boundaries people are somehow “good” or “loving” because they are less likely to upset those around them. In reality, boundaries are vital for our self-preservation and personal well-being. By avoiding the short term discomfort of establishing healthy boundaries we often cause more harm to ourselves and others. However, when we express our thoughts and feelings with integrity and honesty we create and maintain authentic, meaningful and healthy connections.
To reframe how we perceive the concept of boundaries, we must first understand that setting boundaries does not make us selfish or mean spirited. Healthy boundaries are necessary for our mental, spiritual and physical health. Of course, the well-being of those around us is important too, however, the expectation that we must continuously sacrifice our own needs to demonstrate the length and breadth of our caring is unhealthy. Instead, we should challenge our preconceptions, and consider if our main mode of operation is to avoid conflict with others at all costs, rather than face the discomfort that accompanies personal growth.
Recognizing Unhealthy and Healthy Boundaries
Establishing healthy boundaries is an important aspect of taking care of ourselves and building strong, healthy relationships with others. Often we are left to wonder if we are justified in our thoughts and feelings, leading to internal confusion, and making it difficult to identify where there is a legitimate need for boundaries. If we struggle to speak up when we are mistreated, feel guilty for dedicating time to ourselves or often express agreement with others when we disagree...we are signaling to ourselves and others that we lack personal boundaries. Conversely, when we talk to ourselves with gentleness, humor, love, and respect it is a sign that we have set healthy boundaries.
Other common signs of unhealthy boundaries can include:
Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
Going against personal values or rights to please another person
Letting others direct your life
Letting others describe your reality
Talking at an intimate level at first meeting
Accepting food, gifts, touch and sexual contact that you do not want
Other common signs of healthy boundaries can include:
Communicating your wants and needs (and recognizing that you may be turned down but you can ask)
Noticing when someone invades your boundaries
Noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
Maintaining personal values despite what others want
Saying no to food, gifts, touch and sexual contact that you do not want
Trusting your own decisions
Establishing healthy boundaries can improve our self-esteem and self-worth which form the driving forces behind positive life experiences. If we do not establish personal boundaries we feel drained and depleted. Running on empty can only get us so far in our journey.
Establishing Healthy Boundaries Through Therapy
When we have not been educated in the art of navigating our emotions, therapy provides a solution. Yes, establishing healthy boundaries can feel uncomfortable, but the process empowers us to make positive changes, the benefits of which last a lifetime. We can establish healthy boundaries in many important areas of our lives, including eating, work, and social habits. It is also important to provide ourselves the necessary space to recharge, we can achieve this by setting clear boundaries around our free time. Much progress can be made in these areas when we are given a warm, supportive, and safe environment to express our thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
By working alongside a therapist it is possible to identify healthy and unhealthy boundaries in ourselves and others to encourage positive change. We can then work toward establishing our own healthy personal boundaries in a safe and non-judgemental space. Sometimes we are met with resistance by loved ones during this process which can cause us great pain and confusion. We must still remain accountable to our boundaries rather than disregard our mental, spiritual and physical needs. In this instance, a therapist can help us to reach an understanding of others' realities so that the self-healing process can continue.
If you would like to know more about the services offered at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, please don’t hesitate to reach out on (512) 400-4247.