Boundaries - the what and why

Boundaries - the what and why

Boundaries are limits that you can place upon yourself or others to preserve your safety, security, and emotional energy. Boundaries can be emotional, physical, sexual, time-bound, communication related, or even set in your personal thoughts. 

Boundaries are key for every relationship, whether family, friend, or even strangers. Boundaries are especially important for everyone in the household to both set and communicate with each other. Parents with children, children with parents, siblings among siblings, and partners/spouses with each other. For parents, there need to be boundaries with their children on how time or money is spent, such as paying for a phone plan, or how much time is spent on screens. Children need boundaries with their parents as well - a common example is how the parents and  the children communicate with each other. This typically includes elevated tone of voice, name-calling, cursing, accusing, or interrupting being out of limits. 

Boundaries preserve self worth and general sense of self. If someone feels worthless, they struggle to feel that they deserve to have limits, or may feel guilty when they have to tell someone no. Consequently, the person who never is told no will also struggle with self of self and their need to take ownership of their actions. This dynamic can actually become quite toxic. And along comes anger, resentment, anxiety, and possibly even suicidal ideation. 

Boundaries also preserve a sense of responsibility. This easily becomes lost when we struggle with motivation or a dysregulated mood. When you set boundaries you are essentially saying “I see you are struggling right now. I’d like to be your support, but I cannot fix this situation right now. I also can’t be the only one you blame. We all need to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions. I will work on mine and you will work on yours”. 

Typically loved ones will either automatically take ownership of the situation and try to fix it, or feel a sense of their own shame in the situation and channel that shame on others as a scapegoat. Some problematic thoughts or phrases may be:

“This person is the reason that our family is struggling” 

“I am such a bad wife and mom, I could have prevented this”

“If she would just get it together, we wouldn’t have this issue”

“This is all my fault” 

“I can’t see them suffer, it’s too much for me”

Both are a response to our own unregulated emotions (anxiety, fear, shame, anger, etc). When boundaries are practiced, there is less reacting and a better ability to say “this isn’t all about me right now” and “there are things I can learn for myself in this too”.

Another red flag for these scenarios is assessing who you feel might be in the “victim” role. Sometimes we view our loved ones who are patients as victims because we see them in pain. Other times, we feel like we are the victims because our loved ones have put us through “so much” in the process. Neither mindset is helpful for staying regulated and helpful in the treatment process.

Boundary-setting is painful but crucial. It alleviates hopelessness and panic long-term. It protects you from taking ownership of other’s shame and helps you stay focused on your own work. It also protects others from taking on your shame (or big emotions) that you need to deal with. It is not appropriate for anyone to expect someone else to deal with their emotions… it is that person’s responsibility, no matter their age. 

Setting boundaries requires taking pause, practicing self care, being mindful of your own big emotions that may cloud your judgment, and establishing your values that you want to protect.

When we set boundaries and take responsibility for our own journey, we are less consumed by everyone else’s actions and state, and more mindful of our own needs and thoughts. Then, we react better to heightened situations because we are more centered.

Examples of Boundaries:

Communication boundary: “I see that you’re upset, but I will not argue or tolerate yelling. Let’s take 5 minutes to regroup and resolve this issue”

Screentime boundary: “I will not pay for your phone bill if you sneak your phone into bed and are on it all night. We are all done with phone each night at 8PM as a family”

Emotional boundary: “I am not your therapist and can’t be the person that you vent to about this. I suggest you either talk with the person directly that you are frustrated with, or seek professional help for more guidance”

Emotional boundary: “I see that you are anxious about starting school but this unfortunately won’t change my expectation that you need to go to school tomorrow. I know you can do this and am proud of your persistence. I am happy to practice some coping skills with you to help us all feel more calm. Which one is your favorite?”

Emotional boundary: "I see my spouse is struggling but I will not hold myself back from doing things I enjoy. I am allowed to have a full life and be happy even when they are dealing with depression. His/her depression is not my depression"

Time Boundary: “I can’t speak with you right now because I am busy, but I have time between 2PM-3PM today or 10-11AM tomorrow. Which one works better for you?”

Boundary in thoughts: “I am struggling with body image right now but I will not berate myself when I look in the mirror. I am proud of what my body has gotten me through. It helps me get through long days and I will celebrate how strong I am becoming in many ways. I will prioritize my health to continue to celebrate my body.”

Boundary in thoughts: “I am feeling anxious about the future, but I will not let myself spiral. This is out of my control and I will stay in the present and focus on what I do have control over. The rest is up to fate/God/my higher power.”

There are so many ways to set boundaries in your life. It doesn’t always come naturally but with time and practice, can feel more natural and eventually can help you feel much more liberated. Boundary setting is a key skill that is addressed in our PHP program - for individuals and families. If your family is struggling with boundaries, contact us to discuss treatment options available for you.

Related Articles