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  • Writer's pictureAlex Steiner, LCSW

What Are Boundaries and How Do I Set Them?

Something that comes up often in therapy (and in my personal life for that matter), is boundary setting. I like to think of boundaries as a way that we keep ourselves safe and communicate our commitment to protecting ourselves to others.

Emotional boundaries with a pet

Boundaries are clear limits and guidelines that a person creates to identify reasonable and safe ways for others to behave towards them. Boundaries explain how you will interact, what you allow into your life, and how you spend your time. Boundaries also encompass how you will respond when someone passes those limits.

Boundaries are learned at a young age and are learned through observation of those around us. While communicating what boundaries look and sound like can be helpful, the most common form of learning boundaries is through experiencing and seeing what healthy boundaries look and feel like as demonstrated by others.

Boundaries are so important in relationships because without them people often can feel resentful, disappointed or like they are being taken advantage of.

People with little to no boundaries also violate the boundaries of others and might become offended or upset when you set them - this does not mean you are wrong. I like to think of the saying: “Others can only meet you as far as they’ve met themselves.”

This statement applies to everything, but I think sheds light so accurately within the context of boundary setting. If nobody has set effective boundaries with me and I haven’t learned that they are designed to serve and support me, I may take offense, feel rejected, and become angry (because I haven’t gotten there yet, myself).

So, now what? There are two parts to this: there is setting the boundary and then there is upholding the boundary is crossed. There is no such thing as a boundary if you lack follow-through. It is important to communicate what feels like an acceptable consequence if someone oversteps and violates the boundary you have communicated.

The most common fears relating to setting boundaries have to do with some of our core, inner wounding. For example, others will abandon me, will not approve, reject me, will confront me about it, and/or, will speak poorly of me to others.

People also very classically like to avoid conflict. In my experience, this is due to one of two things:

1. What I mentioned above: People become very uncomfortable because they are fearful something bad will happen as a result of standing up for themselves and standing their ground.

2. People struggle to sit with the discomfort that arises within them when they make others unhappy.

Learning to sit with and witness your own discomfort is key. If others become upset with you as a result of setting your boundary, it is their responsibility to work through that discomfort - not yours to relieve them of it. This can be really hard if your typical response is people-pleasing.

Different Types of Boundaries:

Emotional Boundaries:

“My weight, diet, or how I choose to eat is not something I am willing to discuss with you.”

“I understand your opinion on X, we can agree to disagree and I would not like to discuss this further.”

Time Boundaries:

“I can stop by and stay for dinner, but after that, I will need to go home.”

“I am not always near my phone, so I will respond when I get a chance.”

Physical Boundaries:

“Please don’t go into my room without asking first.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with physical contact; can I please have some space?”

Financial Boundaries:

“I am saving money right now so I can’t go, but have fun!”

“You can borrow X but I will need it returned by Friday.”

Someone is Bringing up Something You Are Not Comfortable Talking About:

“I know that you care and only want what is best for me, I just need you to respect that I don’t want to and am not comfortable talking about X. I want to spend our time talking about things that feel good for both of us.”

When Feeling Resentful or Used When Someone Only Calls to Vent or Ask For Something:

“I care for you and see that you are going through a really hard time right now. I definitely want to be there to support you, I’m just noticing there hasn’t been much space for me to share about my own life and the stuff that I have going on.”

Helpful Mantras for Healthy Boundary Setting:

“I will follow through with my own boundaries regardless of how others choose to respond to them. I set boundaries to protect and respect myself.”

“Regardless of another person’s behavior, I will keep myself safe and in alignment with my own values.”

If you are looking for additional support as you set and maintain healthy boundaries with yourself and others, contact me for your complimentary consultation. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have and discuss how I can help you move forward in a positive direction. Feel free to call me at 954-391-5305.

I offer counseling in our beautiful Fort Lauderdale office and telehealth on a secure platform for those living in the state of Florida. For more information about me and my approach to therapy, please visit my page.


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