- Do you constantly attempt to please others?
- Do you take better care of other people than you do of yourself?
- Do you often agree to do something you really don’t want to because you are too afraid to say no?
- Do you regularly hide your true feelings because you fear confrontation or rejection?
- Do you readily blame yourself when others become upset even if there is no objective connection?
- Do you often feel guilty?
- Do you have a lot of difficulty opening up to others and/or asking for help?
If you answered yes to some of these questions, you are most likely struggling to set healthy boundaries in your relationships with others. Good boundaries help us define ourselves and take responsibility for what rightfully belongs to us. They help us become more aware of our own needs, as well as be able to express these to others and find ways to meet them. In addition, when you have clear personal boundaries, you can distinguish what is not your responsibility and hence not attempt to fix it or feel guilty for it.
For example, clients will often talk about being unable to say “No” to friends and family for even minor requests because they feel too guilty or they truly believe it is their responsibility to be always available. In an all too often scenario, people end up feeling overwhelmed at work because they keep taking on too much while their manager keeps piling on extra responsibilities. And yet they have difficulty establishing some limits on their availability or readiness to take on extra responsibilities, because they fear conflict or have an unrealistic sense of obligation.
The elements of personal boundaries
Words – It is through communicating openly and assertively that we can express what we need to others or say “No’ when necessary
Consequences – we need to show respect for and ownership of our boundaries by setting appropriate consequences when they are violated. It is unrealistic, otherwise, to expect that anyone else automatically would.
Choices – this refers to our ability to own our decisions rather than pass on the responsibility onto others. And ultimately it means recognising that you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.
How counselling can help you to establish healthy boundaries
Good boundaries enhance our physical and emotional health, helping us overcome feelings of disempowerment, anger, guilt and frustration with ourselves and others. Establishing healthy boundaries enhances our relationships and can even reduce the amount of conflict we experience. In counselling, we can work on improving your personal boundaries in the following ways:
- Create a clear sense of what boundaries are and aren’t.
- Evaluate realistically what your boundary issues are – read more about these here.
- Examine what unhelpful beliefs about boundaries you may hold. Common myths are: “If I set boundaries, I am being selfish”, “If I re-adjust my boundaries, I will be hurt by others”, “If I set boundaries, I will hurt others”, or ”Boundaries are permanent and I will burn my bridges”
- Clarify what you want to achieve and what barriers stand in your way.
- Learn and practice new ways of establishing your boundaries and communicating them to others.