Some Boundary Basics


Seems like we hear about boundaries all over now, right?  And I’m not even talking about the therapy office.  Whether politics, business, or friendships the concept of boundaries has become an increasingly important one.  Seems like we see every week what happens when boundaries are crossed or not unpheld in a direct way.

Some boundaries can of course be nuanced and particular – “tricky” as we say.  Fortunately, though, most situations around boundaries are fairly straightforward and can be conceptualized easily once we grasp a few concepts.

For those of us not skilled in the way of boundaries I thought we could talk about a few principles that have been helpful to me personally.  Specifically, these 4 points have been helpful to me as I’ve learned to keep the focus on myself and notice when I’m feeling uncomfortable in some arrangement or relationship. 

Boundaries can be physical…but can also be emotional and relational.

If somebody makes you feel uncomfortable, learn to listen to your gut.  Are comments towards you controlling?  Are they trying to modify your behavior instead of keeping the focus on their own feelings and experience? 

Our body and emotions will give us signals – it’s good to listen to them and see what they are trying to say.  If it “feels” like somebody is invading your space whether emotional or otherwise that’s probably a sign that a boundary may be needed.

Boundaries define where my space ends and yours begins.

As Brene Brown says, boundaries are about what’s ok and what is not.  In some ways it’s fairly simple – where is the line between us and making sure to recognize it. 

We fall into trouble when we let others define that line without our input.  Then, we can try to follow that and get resentful and bitter because it’s not a boundary boundary that works for us. 

Boundaries help define responsibility. 

A healthy boundary lets others be responsible for their actions and to experience consequences.  When we cross over into someone else’s territory we are now “playing God” for them and deciding things not ours to decide. 

And to be clear we aren’t even helping usually when we do this.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen is that a person experiences the consequences and pain of their actins – that’s usually the only thing that gets us to change.

Good boundaries release resentment and create compassion and good feelings.

When you meet a well boundaried person they may appear too “direct” or even rude.  We are so used to a codependency saturated environment that even normal assertiveness or a direct yes/no feels abrupt and unfamiliar.  We’ll need some time to get used to that.  Nonetheless, those people that can communicate that way and be direct about their needs can also be the ones who are truly compassionate and present for you.  They aren’t bound up in resentment and guilt.  Because of their directness and boundaries they have free energy to really focus on important and positive things, like a relationship or friendship.  They are trustworthy and straightforward

Maybe today is a good day to examine where boundaries will empower your life.  Don’t view them as negative or only for extreme situations.  Used well and for good purposes they are a gift and one that can keep on giving. 

-Eric Connor, LCPC, CSAT