The Art of Boundary Setting

Most of us strive to establish and maintain healthy, long-term relationships with our intimate partners, friends, family, and co-workers and one of the most important, if not the most important, skill to achieve this relationship goal is to identify, implement, and uphold clear and direct boundaries.  So what are boundaries in the context of relationships?  Boundaries are the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual limits we each identify in ourselves that indicate what we are able to tolerate as well as what causes us to experience feelings of resentment, stress, and discomfort.   Usually when we experience resentment or discomfort in our relationships it is because we are allowing ourselves to be pushed outside of our comfort zone and can be warning signs that we need to evaluate how we are managing these interactions so that we can make changes to better suit our needs. 

Here are some questions that can help you determine whether you can improve on your boundary setting skills:

1.     Do you feel guilty when you say ‘no’ to someone?

2.     Do you agree to things that you are not okay with just to please other people?

3.     Do you allow other people to treat you poorly without speaking up?

4.     Are you overly trusting of people you barely know?

5.     Do you expect other people to meet your needs at all times?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may benefit from evaluating what areas you can consider making changes to. 

So what do healthy boundaries look like?  In order to establish and set limits in our relationships, we need to have self-awareness about our feelings and honor them as well as be clear about how we want others to treat us.  Healthy boundaries are associated with self-respect and the ability to make self-care a priority, even if these boundaries may not be the same for other people you care about or have to maintain a relationship with.   However, just having self-awareness and self-respect are not enough to actually doing the work of establishing and implementing healthy boundaries.  This important skill also requires open, direct, and respectful communication to verbalize and express your needs and limits to others.  This helps other people know where you stand and can promote awareness of what others can expect of you. Healthy boundaries also promote self-confidence, stability, being in touch with reality, as well as more satisfying and rewarding relationships.  

Boundary setting is an essential and vital aspect of establishing and maintaining healthy and fulfilling relationships however it is a skill that does not always come natural or easy to some of us.  Boundary setting takes ongoing practice and awareness in order for us to reap the benefits.  Professional help can be a source of support for individuals who may struggle with this crucial life skill by providing guidance and expertise to promote change.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT