Health & wellbeing

A beginner’s guide to boundaries

09 Jan 2023 | Written by Jennifer Cromar

In her last piece on being there for others, Jen Cromar raised the important issue of boundaries. Here, she expands on boundaries, why they’re important and how to set (and stick to) them…

Are you still in recovery from Christmas where you had to spend time with people who cross your boundaries? 

Do you hear the younger generations talking about boundaries and wonder what they mean exactly? 

When you were growing up, did you ever hear about boundaries? Were you educated at school about what they were? 

My last blog was about how to support others. In the boundaries section I said that this subject deserved a blog of its own and so… here it is! Growing up, I had no idea what boundaries were. I never heard talk about boundaries at school. If they taught it, perhaps in health education, or whatever it was called (I must have been absent that lesson.) I grew up having no idea about boundaries, except maybe a vague idea that they were cold and harsh and not “nice”. 

Even when I was taught about boundaries whilst in counselling training (essential for such work) it still remained rather vague and mysterious. Then, when I used to teach the module on boundaries when training others in counselling skills, my tutoring was also kind of vague. I learnt I was a people pleaser and people pleasers usually have terrible boundaries. It is my recovery from an abusive relationship that has led me to know A LOT about boundaries. And I definitely put them into practice.

So, some points to consider… 

  1. Firstly, some signs of poor boundaries: You are not honest with others; feeling that you are letting other people define you; feeling you have “lost your voice”; you may feel you are losing your identity; you need to please everyone in order to feel worthy; saying “no” makes you feel guilty; you fall in love quickly; letting someone touch you when you do not want them to; crossing other peoples boundaries; being an “open book”; wearing your heart on your sleeve (sometimes it’s good to put it back in your chest under the rib cage where it is protected).
  2. The act of setting personal boundaries is an essential life skill which became more popular in the 1980s self help book market.
  3. To know and then communicate your boundaries is essential for self care and good mental health. 
  4. Think of it as an invisible line around yourself so that you know what is acceptable, physically or emotionally, for you personally. See yourself as a house with a boundary line around it. How would you feel if someone just ignored the line, came in and told you how to manage your house or change it in ways you do not like?

    Psychcentral.com talks of seven different types of boundaries: physical, sexual, emotional/mental, spiritual/religious boundaries, financial boundaries, time boundaries and non-negotiable boundaries.
  5. Non-negotiable boundaries are non-negotiable! Things that you are simply not willing to put up with in a relationship… ie: lying, cheating, being taken for granted. We tend to let things slide in the early stages of relationships, moving our boundaries for the sake of love. This is why it is essential to take time to get to know someone. 
  6. If you find it hard to say “no” practise it with people who you feel able to say it to. Practise in the mirror or in your head. “No” is a complete sentence. You do not even have to sugar coat the word or justify your “no” to anyone.
  7. Being an open book is actually a bit of a red flag. It can leave you extremely vulnerable. Yet we also connect through our vulnerability so it is about finding the balance between sharing what does not leave you feeling exposed and/or sharing with people who don’t gossip and attack.
  8. If someone crosses a boundary you will feel OFF, you will feel disrespected, or offended, or angry or uncomfortable. 
  9. It takes a lot of work to get strong boundaries. Think of it as building a muscle. This is where counselling can help. You deserve to have good relationships, the key to good relationships is the one you have with yourself.

As I wrote this I posted on Facebook asking about boundaries and saying I felt I had missed the lesson at school. Immediately people reply… “I had to learn the hard way”, says one lady, “there was no lesson at school”, says another (who was at the same school as me). “Boundaries are essential to teach yourself, your children and your grandchildren”. “It’s never too late to grow emotionally”, adds one lady who is currently doing intense healing on herself. 

Thank you for reading. Please comment below on your understanding of boundaries. I am especially interested to know if you learnt about this in school.

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