Boundaries are the spoken and unspoken guidelines that dictate appropriate behavior in your relationships. These guidelines will differ based on the type of relationship. What is appropriate with your best friend may not be appropriate with your therapist.
Not all boundaries are spoken. You likely have boundaries with your friends and family that have formed without much thought. For example, your friends know to knock before coming into your house.
While some expectations come naturally, that isn’t always the case. Recognizing when a boundary needs to be communicated may make for a more difficult conversation, but that likely indicates its necessity.
What boundaries are and what they are not
Ensuring boundaries are healthy for both you and the other person is vital because they form so much of your relationship.
Boundaries are statements of fact. They shouldn’t be used selfishly or as threats, nor should they be so rigid that there isn’t room for forgiveness. Those in unhealthy relationships often find boundaries being used as a form of control. For example, if your partner said, “If you really cared, you wouldn’t wear that.”
People pleasing is another example of unhealthy boundaries. Saying “no” is the simplest, yet often most difficult, boundary to put in place. When you feel responsible for the emotions of others and find yourself acting on that feeling, it may be a sign of an unhealthy or non-existent boundary.
Being able to say “no” to someone or something is the first sign of having healthy boundaries. Boundaries should be enforceable by your actions alone. If someone breaks a boundary, you reinforce it by removing yourself from the situation, not by forcing the other person to respect you.
Why boundaries are important for your relationships
The most important reason for putting healthy boundaries in place is to protect your mental health. However, they are also essential for ensuring everyone’s needs are met, building trust and respect, and balancing the power dynamic. They keep you from becoming enmeshed with the other person, allowing you to build and maintain your identity.
Here are a few areas you should consider placing boundaries on within your relationships.
- Time. Setting clear expectations with others around your time will prevent you from finding your calendar full of tasks that either don’t benefit you or that you aren’t excited about, leading to stress and even resentment. If you aren’t able to do something, consider saying, “Not now.” For example, if you are asked to bake cookies for your child’s bake sale but you’re in the middle of a move across town, it’s completely acceptable to say while you can’t this time, you would love to help out the next time.
- Physical touch. The level of physical contact you are comfortable with will vary by relationship. You likely allow your partner to touch you more often and more intimately than your friends. Most of these boundaries happen without much verbal communication, but other times, they need to be voiced. For example, you feel uncomfortable when your uncle hugs you and would prefer him not to.
- Money. Boundaries around finances are crucial, especially in intimate relationships where money is shared. However, this also applies when spending time with friends with different spending habits. If your friends spend more money than you would like on activities like going to dinner, consider asking to go somewhere less expensive or take a rain check for the night.
- Sex. Talk with your partner about what activities you are comfortable with and what you are not. Remember, it’s never too late to say no or to ask them to stop.
- How others interact with your pets or children (if you have them). Pets and especially children often do not understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior from adults, so it’s your job to protect them. Be bold and speak up, even to those who are well-meaning. An example of this would be your mother insisting on giving your child sugar, but you would rather her feed them fruits instead. Or someone feeding or rough-housing with your dog– without your permission.
Why boundaries with your therapist are essential, protective, and can serve as a positive example
Therapy is one of the best places to start practicing boundary-making. Starting with your first visit, your therapist will set boundaries, such as when you can contact them, how long sessions will be, and other details that will outline your relationship. This process is a great opportunity to begin recognizing other’s boundaries and respecting them.
Don’t be afraid to set your own boundaries throughout your time in therapy. Sessions are often vulnerable, and choosing what to tell your therapist is up to you. If there is something you would like to talk about, but you don’t feel comfortable yet, it’s okay to wait until they have earned your trust. Sometimes, diving into a painful memory too soon can do more harm than good, so communicating that with your therapist is crucial.
Here are a few things to remember when communicating your needs to your therapist.
- Be upfront about your feelings and avoid lying, as it’s not helpful for treatment.
- Let your therapist know if the topic in question might be something you would be willing to discuss in the future.
- Let your therapist know your thought process behind avoiding a topic whenever possible. Is it too painful? Are there legal issues you are afraid your therapist will be obligated to disclose? Discussing and processing the “why” may be helpful before exploring the topic further.
- Aftering being in counseling for a little while, talk to your therapist about what techniques or styles they use with you–which interventions you like best.
- Make sure to speak up to your therapist if you don’t believe they are on topic or not working on what you want to work on.
Setting these boundaries with your therapist, friends, family, and others will help you build strong, healthy relationships with those around you. If you’d like additional support in creating and maintaining boundaries or other mental health concerns, reach out to us on our contact page or call 616-200-4433.
Keep in mind that we accept a wide range of health insurance plans to make your path to wellness as accessible as possible. These include Blue Care Network, United Healthcare, Golden Rule, UMR, and many more.