Many people seek therapy because they feel overwhelmed or stressed. This could come from a specific event that seemed to snowball, or it could be a bunch of little things that make day-to-day living a struggle. My job is to be a present listener, supporter, coach, planner, and whatever else is needed at that moment. In planning, I help my clients create a plan to manage stress and for any barriers that may come along the way. For most people struggling with stress, one of the most common barriers is inconsistent or ineffective boundaries.
There are five types of boundaries that are important to your mental and emotional well-being. As you continue reading, think about how you maintain your boundaries. I’m sure you’ll find that it’s easier to maintain healthy boundaries in some categories than others.
1) Physical-personal space and touch
2) Emotional-disclosure, inappropriate discussion topics, or anything related to your feelings
3) Material-your personal belongings and when/how they are used
4) Time/Energy-doing favors for someone or tardiness
5) Mental-having your own thoughts, values, and beliefs
When introducing boundaries to clients, I typically ask them about their current boundaries. Oftentimes, clients identify that they set boundaries but don’t feel their boundaries are respected by others, leaving them to feel unheard and unappreciated (Sound familiar?). When we dig into this, it’s apparent that their boundaries usually aren’t clear with others until they’re at their breaking point. We usually see that boundaries go back to being nonexistent once they’re no longer fed up.
Ineffective boundaries look like this: You’ve set a boundary, maybe around only babysitting a relative’s child three times per week. You’ve been able to stay consistent with this, but you’re still stressed out. You’re afraid that your whole family will be angry if you reduce your assistance. To them, “You have the most availability” or “You don’t have that much going on”. Maybe it’s, “It’s not like no one has ever helped you”. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Whether they like your boundary or not is not your concern! There would be no need for boundaries if they agreed with them. Get in the habit of prioritizing what feels best for YOU. The process of setting effective and consistent boundaries can be pretty simple. However, “simple” does not mean “easy”! It’s a process that requires you to not only change your actions but your mindset as well. This takes time. To start the process of setting boundaries with others, you have to first learn to set and respect boundaries for yourself. Think about it like this: How can you expect others to respect your boundaries if you don’t respect them? As with most things, change begins on the inside. Start with setting a boundary that is less challenging for you. Only answering work calls/emails during work hours could be a starting point. In the example above, a boundary that you set for yourself could be only making yourself available to others during set times that are most convenient for you. Earlier, I asked you to think about how you maintain your boundaries. In what ways do you need to be more consistent or effective with your boundaries? How can you improve your personal boundaries? Let me know in the comments or email me. I’d love to hear from you!