Since the first time I started learning about them, I have been fascinated with the idea of “boundaries.”
I first began learning about them right after college in a small discussion group where we were reading and talking about a book on relationships. I’ve always loved a good discussion group and that one was truly impactful for me – because we all came eager to connect, and we were willing to go deep as we dug into how to have healthier relationships. One topic, of course, was boundaries.
The moment this concept of boundaries in relationships was explained to me my mind was captured by the possibilities of what this could mean. I began to realize that boundaries could be important in so many areas of life. And I wanted to learn more – I’m still learning.
Two simple dictionary definitions for “boundary” are, “a line that marks the limits of an area,” and “a limit of a subject or sphere of activity.” Another is “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.” The last one especially fits if talking about emotional and relational boundaries.
Most of us can easily think of physical boundaries: a fence, caution or police tape, a gate, a wall, even a baseball diamond – all of these physically portray limits. These are important because they provide a definition, or a warning, telling us where we can or cannot go, even how we should play a game. Limits are good for us.
But, what about boundaries related to emotions or interactions with other people?
Sometimes these can be harder to think of, especially for those who haven’t thought of boundaries in this way before. Can you think of any that might fit? A few healthy examples of these are: saying “no,” respecting another person’s “no,” communicating clearly, taking time to get to know someone, and not making assumptions. Again – these are types of limits – just applied to relationships.
So, if relational boundaries are so great, why aren’t people more aware of them and using them well? Once, I was teaching a group about healthy relationships and one of the participants said, “why don’t they teach this in school? That would have helped me so much.” I 100% agree! A lot of people haven’t ever learned about healthy boundaries, and if they don’t know about them, how can they apply them?
To simplify, having boundaries in relation to others is essentially setting limits – both with ourselves and others.
It takes time to learn about this and to practice it. One important way to do this is to say “no.” Such a simple thing, but it can be a challenge.
There is a multitude of demands or requests we have on our time. Our culture, our job, friends, family, and partners – often we feel pulled or pushed from many directions. We might struggle with wanting to please others or not disappoint them. This is a common experience and part of what makes saying no difficult.
I have seen a clip of Shonda Rhimes being interviewed and she said that she’s learned that saying no is a complete sentence. She explained that we often feel like we need to give an explanation for why we can’t do something for someone, but she’s realized we are not required to defend our “niceness.” Her fantastic go-to is, “No, I’m not able to do that.”
The truth is that no is hard to say.
And, if we’re honest, most of us don’t like hearing it. Those with unhealthy boundaries, who aren’t used to hearing it, will not be happy to hear us setting limits. But, don’t forget that there are so many benefits to setting them for ourselves. With practice and wise decision-making, we can get better at it. In that process, we also learn how to trust ourselves – and stand up for what we need or don’t need. It can be helpful to remind ourselves of some of the benefits of setting healthy boundaries for us.
Here’s a list of some encouraging (and motivating!) examples of these benefits:
+ More compassion + Greater assertiveness + Your needs are met + Less anger & resentment + Feeling of peace & safety + Feeling respected by yourself & others + Improved communication + Greater self-esteem + Less anxiety & stress + Increased confidence + Feeling understood & accepted by others
For me, one of the greatest examples I have of someone with amazing boundaries is Jesus. In his ministry, he could have sat and healed people 24/7, and yet we can read about him eating and resting. We can read about him taking time to pray and to be alone. He taught huge crowds, but he also had close friends. It is encouraging to me to remember that he got tired, too, and he took time to rest. He had to say “no” sometimes. He had people who didn’t like what he was doing, but he also had so many people who respected him and felt respected and cared for by him – boundaries played a part in that.
Boundaries are so good for us.
I want to encourage you to learn more about boundaries. This is probably one of the most common topics that I discuss with my clients. There are tons of great resources to be found on healthy boundaries.
I highly recommend doing your own research. And make part of it by observing and talking about boundaries with people you care about and who care about you. Ask people you respect, who you feel have healthy boundaries, and how did they learn about them? Observe them and others who have good boundaries in different areas of their lives: in friendships, in romantic relationships, in professional settings…in all the ways we have of interacting with other people.
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
Begin Healthy Relationship Counseling in Atlanta, GA
Creating healthy boundaries is much easier said than done. Our team of therapists knows the struggles you may experience and would be happy to offer support with learning new strategies to maintain boundaries. You can start your therapy journey with Remain Connected Counseling by following these simple steps:
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