You may have read the quote “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Or maybe you have heard on a podcast that honoring your boundaries is an important part of protecting your mental health. But what does setting boundaries actually look like in practice? And how do you go about setting healthy boundaries?
What are Boundaries:
Boundaries are limits that separate one person, place, or thing from another. They are verbal, physical, emotional, social, financial or spiritual divisions that separate our identities, responsibilities, feelings, needs, and issues from other people’s. Having boundaries helps us to clarify where our responsibilities end and where other people’s responsibilities begin. They are integral in setting up limits, so that we can take care of ourselves and allow others to take care of themselves. Before going into how to set boundaries, it's important for us to define the various types of boundaries.
Examples of boundaries:
“I am comfortable holding hands in public, but I prefer not to kiss in front of others at family gatherings.”
“I need some space when I first get home from work. I prefer a hug instead of talking about my day at the office.”
“I can’t go on the girls’ trip to Napa this year, but I would love to do something in town when you get back.”
“Calling me that is disrespectful to me. If you use that language, I'm going to end the conversation."
Protecting yourself is not selfish! It’s a vital form of self-care. Once you begin to set boundaries with others, you can live a more aligned and authentic life by staying true to your values, while practicing self-care and self-love. For example, setting a social/financial boundary of “I only go out to dinner on Fridays and Saturdays” communicates to your loved ones that those are the two nights a week you socialize with friends and the nights that work for your budget as well. Setting boundaries is essential for communicating your needs in a relationship, by setting limits in a healthy way. It’s important to keep the focus on yourself when setting boundaries: setting boundaries is not about controlling others—boundaries are about creating a life for yourself that is supportive and respectful of you, your needs and wants. When we have healthy boundaries, we can be around others without fearing our sense of self will be lost or overstepped.
Sitting through moments of discomfort and following through
A big part of establishing boundaries is not only communicating the boundary but following through and sitting in the discomfort. If you are a recovering people-pleaser or perfectionist, setting boundaries and having hard conversations can feel especially scary. In these moments, notice what comes up for you before setting a boundary. If you’re feeling anxiety about how the other person will react, take a breath and come back to yourself. Some helpful mantras can sound like:
“How this person reacts to my boundaries has nothing to do with me.”
“I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.”
“It’s not my job to fix people’s lives.”
“I am allowed to have my own needs and feelings.”
“I can survive others being upset with me.”
If you need support in these moments after setting a boundary, reminding yourself of why you are setting the boundary in the first place can help you stay present with those more unpleasant feelings. Often, self-growth means facing the anxiety that comes with setting and enforcing your boundaries.
Healthy Boundaries = Flexible
While it's good practice to aim for setting healthy boundaries, it's important to remember that there is no such thing as “perfect” boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries means we allow our boundaries to be flexible. This means we can recalibrate what feels right given our life and our needs at the time, and adjust our boundaries to meet our circumstances when we move through change. Flexible boundaries also means we remain open and recognize different relationships will require different boundaries. It is okay for us to say “no” to certain people and places in life and say “yes” to what feels most aligned with our values.
If you want to explore how boundaries currently look in your relationships, here are some questions for reflection:
When was the last time you checked in with your boundaries– especially boundaries with your family, partners, and workplace?
In what relationships do you think you need to reevaluate your boundaries?
To what extent are you able to accept your own boundaries changing without the need to over explain these shifts to others?
If you are struggling to navigate setting boundaries with loved ones, whether that is your in-laws, partner, or boss, connecting with a therapist could be helpful. The therapists at North Berkeley Counseling are all licensed psychologists in Berkeley who have experience in helping others navigate complex human relationships. We offer in person therapy in Berkeley, California, and throughout California, Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida online.