• Reflective Resources

B is for Boundaries

Updated: Jun 3

“Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” Gerard Manley Hopkins


The definition of a boundary is anything that marks a border. It can be a real or imagined line that marks the limit of something, a subject, a principle or within a relationship. In the case of relationships, it is marking a clear place where you begin and the other person ends.


Personal boundaries are essential in order for us to thrive and have healthy relationships. Boundaries are there to allow us to communicate our needs and desires clearly and succinctly without fear of repercussions, they are also used to set limits so that we feel comfortable and others don't take advantage.


When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated”. Brené Brown


Setting, and sustaining, healthy boundaries is a skill that needs to be learned and is essential for self–care or protection. Everyone has different comfort levels, and boundaries help to define ours by outlining our likes and dislikes and setting the distances we allow others to approach. Boundaries help us care for ourselves by giving us permission to say no to people and to not take on too much. Once formulated, they draw a clear line around what is ok for us and what is not.


I allow myself to set healthy boundaries. To say no to what does not align with my values, to say yes to what does. Boundaries assist me to remain healthy, honest and live a life that is true to me.” Lee Horbachewski


Personal boundaries should be derived from the framework of your core beliefs, your perspectives, opinions and values. These things in turn are created from your life experience and learning acquired through social interactions and the environments you encounter. As we shape our boundaries, our values are our best guide because they are not affected by our emotions and so they will not mislead us. Boundaries are not only essential for healthy relationships but to create a healthy life.


Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.” Christine Morgan


When someone behaves in a way that we don’t feel comfortable we need to take care of ourselves by letting them know and reinforcing our boundaries more clearly.


Without boundaries our sense of self-esteem, self-worth and overall personal and interpersonal comfort level can be affected. Clear boundaries allow us to remain connected and when we communicate these boundaries, we are not being ‘awkward’, a ‘killjoy’, ‘selfish’ etc we are showing our respect for ourselves and the relationship, because we’re willing to state our concern and show that we are prepared to stand up for ourselves to ensure that the relationship stays strong and safe for both parties.


Setting boundaries isn’t always easy, and sometimes boundaries are met with anger or resistance (hence our reluctance to set them). Others may be used to you responding in a certain way (e.g. agreeing to help out every time), and they may react badly when you try to make some changes. It is essential to remember that if others react it doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong, you just need to be clear and consistent until people adjust to a new way of interacting with you. Boundaries aren’t meant to punish or control other people, we set boundaries for our own wellbeing, but they aren’t just good for us – they’re good for everyone involved.


It is important to become comfortable saying no to unreasonable demands, and even reasonable ones from time to time if they conflict with your plans. We should also develop the confidence to challenge all insults, or digs that are masked as humour but in reality only serve to lower self-esteem, to put us down, make fun, or take advantage of our good nature and stand up to those those who may try to test our limits, to see how serious we are about our boundaries.


Sometimes, we feel guilty about setting limits so we break our own boundaries and apologise to the other person and convince ourselves of a reason to justify making an exception. At other times we start criticising ourselves e.g. our time management skills, our forgetfulness etc rather than say that we have other priorities.


“ ‘Setting boundaries doesn't make me ‘mean’.

I can set limits and expectations for my life and still be ‘nice’.

Considering your wishes doesn’t mean I have to do what you think I should do. My feelings and thoughts are part of the decision.

And if you don't like it, that belongs to you (knowmyworth)


People avoid setting boundaries for many reasons, but fear is one of the biggest reasons : fear of angering people, disappointing others, fear of being seen as difficult or selfish, of being mean or of ruining relationships.


“When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility.”

Henry Cloud


From a young age, most of us had impressed upon us the importance of being a ‘good girl’ or a ‘good boy’ and that we needed to be agreeable, kind, and selfless. As a result, even as adults, it is easy to feel that we have to make others happy (or at least not displease them) before meeting our own needs. When we don’t create and uphold our own boundaries we sacrifice our right to safety, respect and the freedom to be ourselves, which is essentially tells others that their needs are more important than ours and they can mistreat us to get what they want


“The first thing you need to learn is that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem...Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people….


Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves. There is great power in inactivity. Do not let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just allow him to be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.”

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (Boundaries p.248)


Boundaries are essential to helping us identify who we are, what's important to us and how we want to live our lives. Without them, other people will decide these things for us. As we learn to set our boundaries, it is important to consider how we communicate these boundaries and how our actions and words can impinge on other people’s boundaries too.


“We can't manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugar coating them. Boundaries are a "litmus test" for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can't respect our boundaries are telling us that they don't love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. "I only like it when you do what I want.” Henry Cloud


Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

Consider your boundaries under these seven different areas:

Self-Esteem Boundaries

What is the minimum you need to do to maintain self-respect?

What are the limits you need to set with yourself and other people to make sure your self-esteem is not compromised?


Body Boundaries

What do you need to do to protect your body?

What physical limitations might you need to recognize?

What standards need to be in place for you to protect your physical health?


Energy Boundaries What 'energy drains' in your life need to be eliminated or minimized?

Which 'energy re-fuellers' do you need to have more connection with to help you maintain the energy you need for your life?


Time Boundaries What non-negotiable boundaries must be in place to protect your time? What is the maximum amount of time you need to set to spend on a particular activity, event, or at work?


Space Boundaries How much time do you need to create a nourishing environment that will enable you to live your life optimally?

What does the minimum and maximum state of your environments need to look like?


Money Boundaries What are the limits you need to set on spending and saving?

What is the minimum salary you are willing to work for?


Relationship Boundaries What boundaries need to be in place to protect your relationships?

How much time do we need to spend to nurture our relationships?

What limits do we need to set on our behaviour in relationships?


(Questions extracted from the article here: Lori Radun)


"Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously" Prentis Hemphill


If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started:


https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-to-do-when-you-feel-guilty-about-setting-boundaries#5


https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/


https://sharonmartincounseling.com/set-boundaries-without-being-mean/


https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/healthy-boundaries.htm


‘Boundaries’ by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend



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