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Personal Boundaries: What exactly are they?

Just like property fences, boundaries need constant review to maintain their integrity, check for fallen posts, and tighten the wires. This one's going to be packed with analogies, buckle up :')


a lush green field with wooden fence posts and barbed wire stretching off into the distance and over the hill.

Personal boundaries help us establish consent, keep us safe, and allow us to define what is and isn't ok in our lives. I've been in a lot of conversations about "Boundaries" lately, both in and outside the counselling room, and with mental health being the cultural zeitgeist of the 20's, have boundaries have become lost in translation? So what makes a Boundary, and more importantly, how to you communicate your boundaries?


Today we're talking about defining boundaries, how to communicate a boundary in a healthy way, and what makes them effective in your life.


What are Personal Boundaries?


Boundaries are not walls, which keep people out. They're more like fences that allow people to pass through. They help to show where you begin and end, what is and isn't for you.


Boundaries are limits on behaviours and actions that you're willing to accept. When talking with my clients in the counselling room, I like to say, "boundaries are your thoughts, wants, and needs about any given situation." Identifying and naming these three aspects is a really helpful tool towards establishing a new boundary or reaffirming an existing boundary.


Other examples:

"I don't take work calls after I clock off"

"Only I can give consent to my body"

"I'm not a hugger"

"Don't go in my room without asking me first"

"You are my friend, but I'm going to say No to that"

"I'm feeling tired right now, I need to take a break/rest"

"I don't want to talk about faith or religion right now"


The thing that all boundaries have in common, is that they are about YOU, your thoughts, your wants, your needs. Whilst they are nuanced, boundaries don't tell others how they should act, but it shows them the actions that you will accept. (We can't control other people but we can control ourselves and what we accept). Instead of "don't yell at me", a boundary may be, "I will not tolerate being spoken to like this" and puts the agency, the decision to continue or leave the conversation, in your hands.


"Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out" - H. Cloud, J. Townsend.

Boundaries & "No".


The word no is a boundary enforcing word, and being clear about your no (and your yes) is what helps to communicate what that boundary is. "No, that behavior is not ok for/with/to me, I will not participate in that".


People who struggle with boundaries may also struggling with saying no. They may feel that saying no to someone will endanger their relationship with that person so they go along with them, and may find themselves feeling resentment either towards themselves or to that person. Conversely, the ability to say "no" actually strengthens your relationship with yourself and with others.


Consequences to Breaking Boundaries.


What happens when someone violates your boundary? We need to back up our boundaries with consequences. If boundaries are like fences, consequences are like the barbed wire. They let people know they cannot be walked over and disregarded. Follow through on your boundary. "If you continue to yell at me, then I will leave the room/conversation/turn my phone off/call the police", and then follow through with that action. This is known as an "if/then" consequence. If you violate my boundary then this will happen.


Putting it all together.


"I will not tolerate being spoken to like that. If you continue to yell at me, then I will leave the room."


"I think a good friend is someone who values the relationship we have equally. I want them to make an effort to converse with me, and I need them to be honest. If they aren't showing these behaviours, then maybe they aren't really my friend."


The last word.


Boundaries can seem complicated, especially when we're unclear what ours are, but when we break it down, they can become simple. The formula of "thoughts, wants & needs" can be applied to any situation. The "if/then" consequence can help make a clear pathway for what comes next. Book in with LSC to work on establishing, maintaining or finding out how to communicate your boundaries. We're here to help.







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