As a therapist I often find myself discussing boundaries with my clients. What they are, how to create them, and how to maintain them. I find that several of my clients struggle with this task, and my clients are not alone in this. Many people struggle with the task of creating boundaries, and more importantly, holding themselves and others accountable for respecting these boundaries. This doesn’t mean that once created they’re fixed and rigid. Boundaries can be as flexible and fluid as YOU want them to be; but not so flexible that they aren’t respected and honored by yourself and/or others.
One of the reasons it’s so challenging to create boundaries is that people find it difficult to define what they are. So what is a boundary anyway? Simply put, a boundary is a line (literally or figuratively) or point of limitation/demarcation. We learn what our own personal boundaries are based on our beliefs, life experiences, attitudes, opinions, social interactions, as well as social learning. Setting boundaries helps us inform others of what is or is not acceptable from our perspective. They help us to map out our own personal thresholds and they help inform the choices we make around our who, what, when, where, why, and how.
When working with my clients I like to assist them in identifying their need for boundaries, as well as helping them to conceptualize the function and terms of the boundaries they feel they should set. This is often done by completing the following steps:
1. Identify the problem that needs to be addressed
2. Create a boundary to address the problem
3. Define the terms (as it relates to who, what, when where, why, and how) and streamline the parameters of how the boundary is to be applied
4. Inform pertinent individuals of the boundary and terms
5. Enforce the boundary
Setting boundaries can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Even for self-proclaimed “people pleasers.” In line with setting boundaries, learning to say NO in order to enforce those boundaries is also important. Ultimately, being able to set boundaries in your life is an essential act of self-care. When we don’t manage our boundaries it often indicates a lack of self-esteem and self-worth. As a result, it indicates to others that we don’t value ourselves and they don’t have to either. Creating, and more importantly, enforcing boundaries communicates to others that they must treat us with care and respect because that is the way in which we treat ourselves. Your inner peace is important and having clear and defined boundaries communicates that to the rest of the world.