St. George, UT Therapists Answer: What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries. Control. Flexibility. There is so much that goes into managing our relationships and our lives. Whether you are trying to cope with day to day stress or the stress of a relationship, boundaries can help you make sense of your experience and find direction again. Our Southern Utah therapy clients are doing the hard work of identifying, healing, strengthening and reinforcing their boundaries. And this is work we love doing with them!
In today’s blog, let’s begin with a basic definition of boundaries: Boundaries are the limits and rules we set for OURSELVES within relationships. (Berkeley Edu).
We can communicate our boundaries and ask for cooperation, but ultimately, we are the ones who follow our rules, who follow through with a change in behavior. We don’t follow through by making the other person change, we follow through by doing something different ourselves.
Are My Boundaries Healthy Or Unhealthy?
Healthy Boundaries reflect our own actions in respectful ways. They are flexible and appropriate to the context.
Flexible boundaries means that our boundaries move. They are not fifty-foot brick walls that no one can penetrate, including ourselves. They are also not lines in the sand that anyone can kick away. They are more like a gate that can be opened or closed when we decide to allow in or keep out the things we decide to allow in or keep out. They are like a cell wall – permeable and allowing the good things in while filtering out the things that aren’t healthy for us, as defined by ourselves.
A healthy boundary is one that we define, that allows in what we allow in and keeps out what we chose to keep out. A healthy boundary, when crossed, is what alerts us that something is happening that we don’t like, doesn’t feel respectful or safe. That way we can decide how to respond by continuing to allow it in or change something about our own behavior to keep it out.
What Are Emotional Boundaries?
Emotional boundaries are taking responsibility for our own emotions and not blaming others for them or making others responsible for them. Emotional boundaries are also not taking the blame for someone else’s feelings nor taking responsibility for others’ emotions. Emotional boundaries do not take responsibility for others’ emotions if another person tries to make us responsible for their own emotions.
You might be mindful of your emotional boundaries when you:
- Talk to a supportive friend about a fight with your partner
- Share new, vulnerable information with your therapist
- Choose not to share information about your fertility with your inlaws
- Contain your frustration in front of your children
- Give difficult feedback to a coworker
- Take deep breaths when you are blamed for something you didn’t do
What Are Physical Boundaries?
Physical boundaries are what we allow regarding our own bodies and the immediate space around our bodies. They are the rules we have for ourselves about being touched and touching others. They are the rules we have for ourselves about how close we allow others to get to us and how close we get to others. They are based on such things as personal preference, context, and culture.
A physical boundary is when we allow someone to hug us, but we do not allow another person to hug us because the idea of hugging the other person feels uncomfortable. A physical boundary is stepping back when we feel like someone is standing too close to us. A physical boundary is knowing to shake the hands of an employer at a business meeting and choosing to hug a loved one when they are sad (e.g. not everyone gets the same kind of physical touch based on our comfort, role, context, etc).
Melissa Spaulding, the owner of Guided Wellness Counseling reflects on time when she’s been aware of her own physical boundaries. She shares these examples:
- Asking an older, male coworker to not pat her on the head.
- Choosing not to return to a physical therapist after feeling that their touch and interventions were too rough.
- Directly and clearly asking her partner for a hug when she is upset.
- Communicating that when her back pain is bad, she wants less touch (not more).
- Seeking wide open spaces when she’s overwhelmed and stressed.
Southern Utah Women Ask: Are These Boundaries Healthy?
Unhealthy boundaries are when we try to force another person to behave the way we would prefer them to behave instead of allowing them to behave how they choose to behave. Unhealthy boundaries are holding it against someone when they do something we don’t like instead of taking care of ourselves. Unhealthy boundaries allow someone to dictate how we should behave instead of dictating that for ourselves.
Unhealthy boundaries are rigid and inflexible, not taking into account context: usually we don’t allow people we don’t know well to hug us but we let the new elderly grandma hug us because in this context it’s worth it for the relationship or it’s worth it for the needs of the grandma without really infringing upon you rights or comfort all that much. Unless it does.
Unhealthy boundaries are feeling guilty when someone doesn’t like our choice and changing our choice to please the other person, at our expense. Unhealthy boundaries are not speaking up when we don’t like something to save others discomfort. They are behaving in specific ways with the intent of misleading others to get the outcome we want. “If I buy them this, maybe they will buy me that.” Unhealthy boundaries are using anger, sadness, or any emotion to control another’s behaviors or feelings.
Unhealthy boundaries are asking other people how you should behave. This seems like we are doing them a favor, but actually we are abdicating responsibility and making them responsible for our behavior. “Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it” is not a favor, it is abdicating responsibility.
Unhealthy boundaries are staying in a relationship too long to not hurt our partner. They are not speaking our truth and leading others down a lie to save ourselves from an uncomfortable conversation. Unhealthy boundaries are taking responsibility for others’ bad behavior. “I should have known they wouldn’t like that, it’s my fault they yelled at me.” Or vice versa “They should’ve known I wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t have had to lie if they hadn’t made me so mad in front of my mom.”
How Can I Have Healthy Boundaries?
To start increasing your own boundaries we can increase our awareness. We can watch ourselves and others. Start looking at things through a lens of boundaries. You can start by asking these questions:
- Did I just blame them for my bad behavior?
- Did they just blame me for their feelings?
- What did I think and feel? Did I communicate this? If not, why now?
- What did I need and want? Did I meet my needs? If not, did I ask for help?
Once we start looking for it, they’re everywhere. In songs, on TV, in our families, coming out of our own mouths. Start looking for who is taking responsibility for what and it’s surprising to see who has good boundaries and who does not.
Once we start seeing boundary violations and respectful boundary holding, we can start taking responsibility for our own behavior, thoughts, and feelings. When we find ourselves saying “you make me so mad” stop mid-sentence and say, “I am so mad right now”. When someone says “you’re making me crazy” say “I’m sorry you feel that way. What would you like to do about that?”
Therapy In St. George Supports Better Boundaries | 84790 | 84780
Boundaries are the invisible lines that create safety. Instead of being limiting, they free us to know how we want to handle ourselves in difficult situations and alert us to when we are in safe or unsafe settings. But as a team of licensed therapists, we recognize that many things can make boundaries difficult.
Ambitious women and busy moms are choosing Guided Wellness to explore how their depression, anxiety, trauma and life transitions are making boundaries difficult for them. With support and weekly counseling sessions they are healing from past injuries and gaining clarity and confidence in how they want to live their lives.
Are you ready to begin therapy? Call (435) 767-1424 or click the button below to start with a complimentary phone consultation. We’ll answer all your questions about therapy, learn about your goals and them match you with the best therapist on our team. All of our therapists are trained in EMDR therapy as well as skills to reduce your stress, improve your self-worth and make sense of your experience. Get started today.