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 Setting boundaries in relationships is a term commonly used in counselling but what exactly are boundaries and how do you “set” them?

Boundaries define limits, territories.  Your skin is the boundary between your flesh and the environment.  A fence is a boundary between two properties.  In psychological terms, a boundary is the emotional distance that you establish and defend between you and another.

The purpose of boundaries is to protect and take care of yourself.  You not only have the right but also the responsibility to identify and communicate your boundaries to everyone in your life.  Without clear and firm boundaries you are at risk of being disrespected, used, and victimized.

Boundaries determine what, how much, where, and when you are willing to give of your time, energy, love, support, money, etc.  Your boundaries let others know where the limit of your personal space is and when their behaviour is unacceptable.  By the boundaries you set and enforce you teach others how to treat you and what you accept from them.  Without boundaries in your personal or professional relationships you are like a leaf in the wind at the whim of everyone who wants to use your energy. 

It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with anyone if you have no boundaries – everything becomes

acceptable.  It is in the most meaningful and important relationships that it is the most challenging to set and enforce our boundaries and breaking poor patterns of relating is difficult, particularly with those closest to you.   

Before you can expect others to behave towards you in healthy ways, you need to know what healthy behaviours look like and you need to practice those behaviours so as to model them to those around you.  A couple of examples of healthy behaviours include taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and communicating them respectfully and without blaming and asking for what you want, openly, while respecting the other’s right to say ‘no’ regardless of what you are asking.

The boundaries you have set, or the lack thereof, come from your beliefs about what you think you deserve.  If you were not treated with respect as a child, you did not learn to respect others.  If self-respect was not modeled, you did not learn to respect yourself and your needs, desires, feelings, opinions, etc.  Adults, who have been abused as children, tend to not have well defined boundaries. 

Setting boundaries, saying yes to your own needs, lifts you out of the past and into a new way of life.  If you want to set boundaries in your relationships, the following affirmations will help you feel more comfortable with the process.  “I am creating and setting boundaries for myself and with everyone in my life.”  “I can say yes to my own needs even when they conflict with those of others.”  “I set limits with everyone in my life regarding the time I am available to them in person and on the phone.”  “I respect the boundaries that others set for themselves.”

Setting new boundaries in established relationships is often met with resistance.  It is a risk.  You may start to experience the fear of abandonment from childhood.  However, setting boundaries is about self-care and when you take care of yourself you not only survive, you thrive.  Everyone, including you, deserves to have their needs respected but only you can defend your rights. 

Boundaries are most effective when they are specific.  For example, this week I will be unavailable in the evenings.  Boundaries are contrary to people-pleasing and approval-seeking.  When you are met with resistance, repeat your boundary statement calmly and respectfully as many times as you need to until the other person accepts your boundary.  You do not have to explain yourself, discuss it, or apologize.


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