Boundaries: Understanding this Emotional Wellness Buzzword

Boundaries: Understanding this Emotional Wellness Buzzword

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.

Brené Brown

It’s one of those terms that gets a lot of hype in the emotional wellness world.

Your therapist has probably mentioned it.

People love talking about it on social media.

We even devoted a whole series to it around the holidays!

But what does it actually mean? 

If you’ve wondered about boundaries, have felt curious to learn more, or still aren’t entirely sure what they mean, then this post is for you!

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves in relation to other people.

A boundary defines the space between you and the other person–  a clear place where you begin and the other person ends.

The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is to protect and take care of yourself, but it also helps encourage others to do the same for themselves.

Why do boundaries matter?

Just as a fence can be impenetrable, strong, or weak, so too can our boundaries.

When your boundaries are too rigid, you might:

  • have difficulty reaching out to others for support
  • appear less warm and open than you actually are
  • opt out of experiences that feel vulnerable
  • avoid building intimacy, even with those you love and trust
  • fear rejection, and hold others at a distance as a result
  • feel lonely, isolated, or unloved

When your boundaries are too relaxed, you might:

  • have difficulty saying “no” or disappointing others
  • tend to “overshare” (e.g., your time, resources, personal details)
  • become dependent on the opinions of others to help you make decisions, feel secure, etc.
  • become overly involved in the decisions, problems, lives of others
  • tolerate disrespect and even abuse
  • develop codependent relationships
  • feel drained, trapped, or overly responsible for others’ emotions

When your boundaries are healthy, they:

  • encourage awareness and honesty with yourself
  • promote transparency and openness with others
  • guard against resentment and burnout
  • preserve your precious resources, helping you to be more intentional and giving of your time, resources, and emotional energy

How can I create healthier boundaries?

In her book, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, Anne Katherine recommends the following approach:

  1. Be clear. When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible. Don’t justify, get angry, or apologize for the boundary you are setting.
  2. Give yourself permission. You’re not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you’re setting. You’re only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. Some people, especially those who have grown accustomed to benefiting in some way from your relaxed boundaries, might test you. Plan on it, expect it, but remain firm.
  3. Follow through. Remember, your behavior must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologizing.
  4. Be patient with yourself. At first, you may feel selfish, guilty, or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and remind yourself you have a right to self-care. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety, fear or guilt prevent you from taking care of yourself. And don’t rush yourself either– set them in your own time frame, not when someone else tells you.
  5. Watch for new boundary-setting opportunities. When you feel anger or resentment or find yourself chronically complaining about a person or situation, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then communicate assertively.
  6. Surround yourself with support. Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries.

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Saying No (with Kindness)
Holiday Eating & Boundaries
Navigating Spring Break as a Family

Ready to connect with a therapist for help with healthy boundary-setting?