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BOUNDARIES- but what are they really?

Setting and Maintaining Boundaries

Boundaries – they’re a popular topic in the mental health community, but what are they really? Personal boundaries are the limits and expectations that we set for ourselves and how we expect to be treated by those around us. There are many different types of boundaries we may need to set in our lives – romantic, familial, professional. But as the holiday season approaches, it can be especially important to have a firm grasp on what your own boundaries are and, more importantly, how to enforce them.

The word enforce might bring to mind bodyguards or fighting. However, this process does not have to be one that causes strife when we are clear about what we want. When we know our boundaries before entering a situation, we can state them more accurately if something that crosses a boundary comes into play. At times, such as with insistent family members or persistent bosses, it can be difficult to stand firm with a boundary. But when we are able to stick with it, in the long run we tend to feel better about ourselves, the situation, and even those around us.

The Mynd Clinic wants to help with this process. That’s why we’ve created a how to guide supporting the creation and enforcement of boundaries. Let’s get started:

Know Yourself and Your Values

Oftentimes boundaries are closely linked to our values – that is, what is most important to us. A person who values family may place a firm boundary around leaving work on time. As we often learn and adopt many values from our families, our boundaries can often mirror those of the people that we are closest to, but this is not always the case. Some boundaries will be unique to you, and those may be the ones you guard most closely. Remember that boundaries are one tool we use to protect ourselves and our mental health!

Have an Idea of What You Will Say

Situations that require boundaries can often be high stress or difficult in other ways. Because of that, having a least an idea of what we will say ahead of time can help reduce stress and make it easier for us to speak up when the time comes. While ‘no’ is a complete sentence, there will also be times when it is helpful to expound on your boundary. When this is the case, it is important to be clear and use precise language so that others do not doubt what you are trying to convey. Phrases like “please don’t do that”, “I’m not comfortable with this”, or “that doesn’t work for me” may be a good starting place when starting the boundary conversation. Then, expand on your boundary as you see fit; for some, this includes an explanation of why the boundary exists, for others, it is a simple statement identifying what is or is not okay.

Have an Idea of What You Will Do

As with any situation that causes extra stress or anxiety (giving a speech, going for an interview, starting at a new school), having an idea of the actions we will take can also be helpful. Some tips for successful boundary setting actions include: being assertive (not aggressive!), using confident body language/tone, planning ahead, and being respectful. It can also be helpful to keep in mind that you may have to reassert your boundaries a few times before they are properly adhered to; this is a fairly normal situation. Knowing when people have honestly forgotten about something you previously mentioned versus when they are maliciously ignoring your boundary is an important and helpful distinction to make.

Especially as we near the holiday season, setting boundaries can be the difference between making it and breaking it as we approach the new year. Ensure you know your own and are able to effectively communicate them. If you do that, you’ll likely notice a happier, healthier you long past the end of the holiday season!

Need a little more support in order to maintain emotional wellbeing? Check out The Mynd Clinic’s Services for mental health therapy.

Written by our staff marriage and family therapist: Lauren Buroker, LMFT


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