POV: You are sitting in a therapy session explaining why you are frustrated at your mother for telling you you were wrong to be angry at your sibling or angry that a recent online dating experience left you ghosted at your favourite local café. Your therapist nods and hears your retelling of events, only to say...maybe we need to set some boundaries.
It's no surprise that when I say the "boundary" word, clients cringe a bit. It's not because they don't like the sound of it, but mostly because setting boundaries is a challenge and not easily done. While it's not typically a solutions-focused approach to a problem, it is an act of building skills and learning how to regulate your emotions, assert your needs, and sustain healthy relationships. Setting boundaries with others can feel like an uphill battle for a number of reasons including...
People who need the boundaries are often the ones to push back on them
We may deal with negative attitudes or behaviours as a result of setting boundaries
We may lack the confidence to set boundaries without fear of the backlash
We may struggle to value the importance of boundaries
Our anxiety may be triggered by the act of boundary-setting
...and the list can go on!
I'll be honest, as a therapist, boundaries really are my right hand tool. As therapists, we try our best to practice what we preach as this an an authentic and genuine way of connecting with our clients experience. As such, therapists use boundaries to help mirror healthy relationships with their clients and create an environment of safety, stability, respect, and consistency. Here are some examples of the boundaries therapists may set with their clients:
Keeping a regular schedule of when they are able to accept therapy appointments
Restricting their communication hours (ie. Monday-Friday, only email communication, etc.)
Offering an office or virtual space where therapy sessions are offered
Declining or rescheduling appointments due to scheduling conflicts
Letting you know their capacity of care or expertise to support your needs
They key message: boundaries help to keep us safe. Like the fence depicted in the image above, boundaries can be colourful, unique, and different depending on the environment, situation, or person we are dealing with. Here are some characteristics of boundaries:
Rigid Boundaries: like a stone wall, these boundaries are meant to keep people out! We may set rigid boundaries with those who struggle the most with respecting their relationship with us. Rigid boundaries may consist of limited communication or time spent together or more intentional actions to ensure the person is meeting you where you are comfortable maintaining their relationship to you.
Porous Boundaries: like swiss cheese! These boundaries are full of cracks and holes and don't have much to stand on. These boundaries may consist of an open door of communicaiton or time spent, a lack of care towards one anothers emotions, violations of our time, energy, or resources, or potentially the abuse of your matieral items.
Healthy Boundaries: like a door way! Healthy boundaries can be viewed like a door on a hinge; if we feel respected we may choose to leave the door open as that person/situation has respected us and showed us trust in our resources. However, if we feel overwhelmed or burntout, we can choose to close these doors and create some temporary space. Healthy boundaries are in place when we work in syncronicity with one another. In other words, this is a relationship of mutual respect, trust, and dependability. When healthy boundaries are in place we are more comfortable in embracing personal growth, taking risks, and feeling validated. We are able to connect and communicate with less anxiety or fear of judgement, because as the golden rule states: treat others the way you want to be treated!
As you have read throughout this post, boundaries are important in the maintenance and stability of our relationships and mental health. They may be daunting or hard to set, but they do help us achieve lasting and respectful relationships with others in the future and work towards managing our mental health needs too!
Do you resonate with this article? Do you need some support in learning how to set boundaries and maintain the impact broken boundaries have on our mental health? Connect with me to discuss therapy options!