Boundaries – No? NO! No.
“Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships” (Therapist Aid, 2022).
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! Right?
One of the most difficult things to set in our relationships are boundaries.
Many of us struggle to set rules, standards, and limitations in our relationships, whether they be romantic, familial, friendly, work, or other. Saying “no” wracks us with guilt and leaves us scrambling to remedy the situation by offering alternatives, or backtracking and saying “yes”. WHY??!!
I want to be liked. I don’t want to seem selfish. I am supposed to be giving and kind.
Regardless of the reason, failing to set boundaries does not help us in the end with our relationships. In fact, not setting boundaries can hurt us immensely.
Boundaries are needed to keep our values and our needs met: without boundaries, we can feel like doormats at times – being walked over – or leading us into abusive or exploitive situations. Alternatively, having too many boundaries can limit our abilities to form healthy connections, leaving us feeling lonely. Our relationships are not meant to be all giving or all taking – there can be a balance.
When I was completing my Masters, I made it a point to be present and available for family, friends, and work. So despite working 40 hours a week at my job, studying for 20+ hours, and learning how to be newly married, I made sure that I devoted time to others. Any “me” time, or self-care time was seriously neglected, and even (at times), non-existent.
But I was there for people!!
But! I was not there for myself.
Anytime a friend would ask to meet up, I would be crippled by guilt if I didn’t say yes. I would drive over 40 minutes to see a friend after a long workday, or devote weekends to helping out others, babysitting, or helping others with their school work. (Woe is me!!) Even as I write this, I feel frustrated that I wholeheartedly believed that this is what I was meant to do: I was supposed to be giving of my time and my energy to others.
Well, there were a few holes in my theory (There’s a pun coming up!)!
Sounds like I had some pretty porous boundaries! (There’s the pun! Seriously, it will make sense soon!)
When it comes to boundaries, they can fall into 3 categories: Porous, rigid and healthy.
Porous boundaries: I usually describe having porous boundaries as feeling like a doormat - we overshare information; we take on other people’s information/problems; we have a really hard time saying “no”; we comply with others request because we fear rejection (Therapist Aid, 2022).
Rigid boundaries: think of a fortress, surrounded by a moat, but the drawbridge is up – nothing goes in or comes out. With this type of boundary, we tend to avoid sharing information with others, or asking for help; we keep our distance to avoid rejection; we engage in very few close relationships (Therapist Aid, 2022).
Healthy boundaries: this is our gold standard – what we would like to achieve in relationships – we do not compromise on our values; we don’t over-share or under-share personal information; we know our own desires and needs and feel comfortable communicating them; we can say “no”, and we can accept “no” (Therapist Aid, 2022).
Keep in mind that our boundaries can fluctuate based on context and setting – we can set appropriate boundaries when needed, based on the situational need as well, such as time, money, physical, sexual, emotional, and intellectual needs.
Boundaries are not meant to create barriers in relationships. Boundaries help protect our mental, emotional, physical, sexual, financial, and intellectual health. When we set boundaries, we set the expectation that we will engage in self-care and self-love within relationships. We demonstrate self-respect and self-awareness – which can help with our confidence, and a healthy sense of self.
As you can imagine, my lack of boundaries eventually took a toll on me. I was burned out. I am thankful to my therapist (yes, therapists have, and sometimes are required to have, therapists – grandtherapists) at the time who challenged me to say “no”. I remember feeling stressed with the thought of that! Yet, once I was given permission, and allowed myself, to say “no”, things quickly changed and I found balance in my everyday life, and in my relationships. Relationships where boundaries had been too porous were either strengthened, or faded away. Areas where I held rigid boundaries became healthier and I grew in my self-confidence and self-compassion – I FINALLY started engaging in self-care.
There will always be areas where I struggle to set healthy boundaries, especially in areas where I hold strong values, but every day, with every grey hair, I find it easier to assert myself and take care of me 😊
Stay strong and carry on!
Melodie J. Brousseau
Registered Provisional Psychologist
Therapist Aid (2022)