Setting boundaries 101
Personal boundaries are one of the most pervasive issues today. Boundaries include not only how you manage yourself and your time, but also your energy. In this introductory blog of a series on the topic of boundaries, we look at what they are and give ideas on how to set healthy boundaries.
In Andrea Owen’s Kickass Life podcast series, she interviews psychotherapist Terri Cole on the topic of codependency, and Cole explains that boundaries are the limits we set for others which are physical, emotional, mental, psychological and even sexual. Boundaries are about “where you end and the other person begins,” Cole tells Owen.
Cole notes over-givers and those in codependent relationships often have no boundaries or weak boundaries. Mastering or even getting a grip on setting, or firming up, boundaries can be tough to do. “These interpersonal boundaries with people are some of the toughest as people don’t understand that have a right to stay no, to change their mind or clarify something or express your feelings,” Cole says in the podcast. To recognize your patterns and begin to have the courage to remedy the broken boundary is where many of us struggle.
Setting boundaries isn’t about coming across as aggressive or even bitchy. It is about asserting your emotions and setting your limits with others by stating them. Raise the courage to tell someone your feelings, say no to them, or what you need from them to clarify the situation, etc. In the words of many others, including author, and noted shame researcher Brené Brown, PhD, MSW, drawing effective boundaries is about “making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.”
But you really care what others think
If you regularly have trouble setting boundaries with others, you may suffer from codependency. For more information, see our blog on “5 Big Ways to Break Free from Codependency.” Many codependents have weak boundaries, or even too rigid boundaries.
One of the toughest things for many people, codependents included, is to get over is around worrying or caring too much about what others think, and that’s where self-care and putting on your own proverbial oxygen mask on first before you can take care of others comes in. Tell others what you think about a situation, don’t stay silent and wait for disappointment later.
Many codependents have great fears of abandonment, and find it hard to break out of codependent behaviors because they may unconsciously fear the other person will abandon them if they stand up for themselves and change their behavior in the relationship, and this includes being more outspoken.
Also difficult is the vulnerability and self-exposure it takes to authentically set boundaries. Even if you set the boundary through speech or your actions, for highly sensitive people or empaths, setting the energetic boundaries can be even more difficult. We absorb other’s feelings easily, especially the painful ones. Enmeshment or entangled relationships are those with unclear and permeable boundaries. In addition to falling into enmeshment patterns with family members, you could pick up on other’s feelings and be adversely affected even when entering a public space, crowded room, or at work.
Give yourself enough alone time, mediate, and use other spiritual tools and practices to protect yourself energetically such as visualization and grounding exercises.
Don’t stay silent, collaborate
In a June 2019 broadcast on Hay House Radio, coach and intuitive Nancy Levin says breaking away from co-dependent behaviors and setting healthy boundaries is more about saying “yes” to yourself. “It’s okay to stop the self-talk too, such as calling yourself selfish, or repeating in your head when you were told you were selfish,” she says. She calls the positive effects of being able to set healthy boundaries with others “Boundary Badassery”: what happens when you learn to share your needs clearly without guilt or explanation, and collaborate instead of negotiate.
For more information on setting healthy boundaries, see Positively Psychology’s comprehensive resources on “How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets.”
Resources used in this report:
Andrea Owen podcast with Terri Cole, “High-functioning codependents: What it is and How to Heal It,” http://yourkickasslife.com/podcast/193/
Definition of boundaries from The Dare to Lead Glossary, “Key Language, Skills, Tools, and Practices,” Brené Brown, LLC.
Hay House Radio podcast with Nancy Levin, June 2019.