August 9th, 2023
Know your Boundaries! Set Boundaries! Enforce your Boundaries! We hear this all the time. The word boundary has become a buzzword in recent years. I often find in my clinical practice that clients who are overwhelmed, anxious, and constantly worriers also struggle to set and hold appropriate boundaries.
Boundaries, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, can be a line that marks the limits of an area, a dividing line, or a limit of a subject or sphere of activity. According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the definition of boundaries is something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.
The proper definition is not very helpful. Maybe this is why so many people don’t even know they have a boundary until it has been violated. When we have a boundary violated, we can feel discomfort or anger. There tend to be four main categories of boundaries: Physical, Sexual, Emotional, and Verbal. It can be hard to recognize a boundary violation. The most common my clients struggle with setting is verbal and emotional boundaries. This refers to how we expect people to speak to us and how they treat us or care for us.
Even if you struggle with enforcing boundaries in relationships, sometimes you will encounter people who have great boundaries and are mindful of others. They may use language like “Would you like to ….” or “Are you available to...”. People who speak this way make it so much easier to say yes or no.
On the other hand, someone who says, “I need you to be here at....” or “The plan for you is to come...” conveys the same message but is taking the question out of it. It is a demand or expectation which can make it harder for people (especially those with poor boundaries) to say no.
People who feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated often say “yes” too much. “Yes” to plans, “Yes” to help, and “Yes” to anything others need or want of them. Often called “people pleasers,” when I see this trait in my clients, it often comes with a grave impact on their mental health. People pleasers tend not to get their own needs met in relationships, feel overwhelmed by relationships, and feel unsupported and not heard. This can lead to maladaptive behaviors such as overeating, substance use, and isolation from others.
The Beauty of “NO”:
In some relationships, no matter how hard you work, the other person will not respect your boundaries. In other relationships, boundary violations will continue to happen because a person will avoid speaking up when boundaries are violated, and therefore, the issue is never addressed. By not having a consequence for your boundary and choosing to stay in the relationship, the boundary will continue to be violated.
Cutting someone out of your life is the strongest form of a boundary. This means cutting total contact: by phone, verbally, physically, social media, email, everything. Hopefully, a relationship can be mended before a boundary this strong is necessary. The recommendation is typically to cut all contact in relationships where abuse has occurred. A gentler approach can be taken for other relationships, especially for loved ones you don’t want to cut out completely.
Detaching with love is an approach to setting healthy boundaries that allows you to maintain your relationship in a way that is emotionally safe. The consequence of not respecting your boundaries has to be something you feel comfortable enforcing. You can choose to step back from a relationship by reducing physical time spent together. You can reduce phone calls and texts while still spending some time invested in the relationship. This can look like saying “No” to someone at one time or having the person in your home but being open to seeing the person in larger social settings.
If there is someone in your life who has broken your trust, you can choose to still be a supportive ear for a person while also not openly sharing things that are close and personal to you. Detaching with love requires you to accept that no matter how loudly or how many times you communicate boundaries, this person will not respect them. Therefore, it is up to you to change the level of closeness to them to keep yourself safe, and by doing this, you will be opening yourself up to new and healthier relationships.
Written by: Tara Javidan, LCPC, CADC
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