I’m sure you’ve heard someone utter the phrase “boundary setting” at one point or another. This self-help buzzword is all over the place and can be misunderstood as purely conversational, or, even worse, ultimatum-based. I think, though, that boundaries are the small choices, actions, and deliberations that gradually help us become a truer, deeper version of ourselves. As a mental health therapist, when I see a client experiencing symptoms like anxiety or depression, I try to always consider the client’s relationship to boundary-setting and I think it is useful for everyone to consider.
Is it challenging for you to you to say no to others, to dissent the majority opinion, or declare your own uniqueness? On the flip side, are you more comfortable stating where you stand, what your limits are, and what you need without creating space for hearing those of the people around you?
If you tend toward the former, you could find yourself yielding to those around you. When it comes to things like where to eat lunch, what show to watch, or how to spend your day off, these compromises might not seem very consequential. Over time, though, these conceded decisions compromise who we are and what we desire. When we don’t have a firm grip of where our boundaries lie, we can start to lose ourselves.
If you tend toward the latter, you may have rigidity around your boundaries. You may find most comfort and safety in stating your boundaries without thoroughly considering those of others which, to you, might run the risk of renegotiating yours, or even defending them. Maybe there was a time in your life when someone else’s rigidity trampled your boundaries, which showed you the way you know how to stay strong in your sense of self.
All relationships demand establishing similarities and differences over and over. It is the bumping into one another’s boundaries that teaches, not only, those around us who we are, but also teaches ourselves who we are. Declaring our boundaries can be challenging in a culture that prescribes for us what those boundaries should be and how we should go about setting them, depending on things like gender, race, or social class. Declaring our boundaries can also be challenging when you grew up in a family where you either learn to yield unconditionally in order to accommodate those around you, or where you were rarely shown how to consider alternate paths or to collaborate. In addition to these challenges, breaking out of our boundary habits can be scary, sending a rush of uncertainty into our body, and causing our hearts to race or faces to flush. The result though, is almost always the same: becoming more you. How can that not feel good? With balance in boundaries, we can find ourselves in relationships that are more authentic, fulfilling, and, ultimately, have a more fulfilling relationship to the world.
Communicating boundaries starts small in minute-by-minute choices and daily conversations. It is the first step on a path to re-establishing yourself in the world, to gain a clearer sense of self, more fulfilling relationships, and a life that is truly yours.
Krissy Mulpeter is an individual, couples & family therapist, self-care enthusiast, and seeker of stories. She writes to explore topics in wellness, whole-hearted living, and healthy relationships to self and the ones we love. When she is not doing therapy or writing, Krissy enjoys caring for her plants, cooking, getting exercise in the most fun ways possible, and traveling.