Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why Everybody Needs Boundaries

Everybody needs to learn to set boundaries. I often work with my counseling clients on this front. It is especially difficult for women to set limits and boundaries, and most challenging to set them with the people you are closest to. Today I want to share some of my observations about setting boundaries at home and at work, and how this abilty is key to really living an authentic life and being yourself.

There is an image in a classic old psychology book called "Feeling Safe" that I love. Picture a young person growing up and moving in to a house. The house represents a sense of self. There are many rooms in the house, symbolizing different aspects of the self that one develops over time. The doors to each room need to be opened or closed by the young person whose house it is. The doors are the limits or boundaries which help our developing teenaged self learn to feel safe.

It may be interesting to you to reflect back on your growing up years and recall how safe you may have felt (or not) to explore the different aspects of your self and be supported by family. Were you allowed to let Mom or Dad in closer or push them out a bit when you needed to withdraw a while? If you were allowed to set boundaries as a young person, it helps later in life. Many teenaged girls and adult women struggle with being able to set limits and not feel guilty. There are gender specific experiences in being raised a girl that contribute to this being difficult as well.

Being able to develop your toolkit for setting limits and boundaries is important for personal happiness and to live an authentic life. It means you can make straight-forward, reasonable requests of others. It means you have some standards for how you want to be treated, and that you provide others who are important to you the same fair consideration. It means you and the other person are both allowed to say 'no' sometimes.It means you don't put people-pleasing as your only value. It teaches you to respect yourself and commands respect from others. All relationships have a power dynamic, and setting boundaries helps you hold on to your power over yourself at not be voiceless or enable a tyrant.

Setting boundaries does not mean being defensive. Defensiveness is stonewalling, being hostile, withholding love, and other immature communication stategies.If you saw your parents using defensiveness as their style, it is probably your easiest strategy to emulate. Unless you stop the legacy of defensiveness and choose to develop healthier emotional habits. Defensiveness hides destructive,hurtful,and sneaky behaviors, while boundaries protect your best and higher self.

Where do we need boundaries to protect our best self? Here are some of the areas where we definitely do:

2.With Our Partner(Love, Honor and Negotiate!)
3.How Conflicts Get Resolved (AKA Fair Fighting)
6.Inappropriate Questions
7.Inappropriate Requests
8.Parenting(Variable boundaries dependent on age and maturity)
9.Extended Family
12.Volunteer Work
13.Protecting the Emotional and Physical Intimacy with Your Loved One
14.In our Sexual Life
15.How we Cope with Disappointment, Frustration,and Hurt
16.For Privacy With Clergy, Doctors,and Therapists
17.With our Time
18.With our Self
19.With what we Say
20.With the use of Alcohol and Drugs
23.Children's Activities
25.Privacy(allowing access appropriate to how close the person is to us)

Lots of areas of our lives come to mind. Being able to set boundaries effectively gives your life meaning. When you set limits you protect what is within them, and makes those things have greater value.If you have no boundaries,or loose boundaries, you are not making anyone truly special in your life and protecting them, or taking good care of yourself. Watch for footprints on your back as you become a doormat to others. For more on this topic, I suggest reading "Where to Draw the Line:How to Set Healthy Everyday Boundaries" or the classic "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty".

You can set boundaries, and like training your muscles at the gym,it will get easier with practice.You can show your children a healthier pattern. Mature people not only set limits, but go direct rather than indirect, set differing boundaries depending on what is appropriate to the relationship, and really mean yes when they say it.

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