What are Boundaries?
If you look up boundary in the dictionary, you’ll find several definitions.
- A real or imagined line that marks the edge or limit of something.
- The limit of a subject or principle.
- The limit of what someone considers to be acceptable behaviour.
Until I started training to become a counsellor, I hadn’t given much thought to boundaries. But I soon learnt they’re an important part of the counselling process.
Within a therapeutic relationship, boundaries are set to help keep both the counsellor and the client safe. Common boundaries include time, location, contact, and confidentiality.
- Setting a time limit for the session and making sure that time limit is adhered to.
- Making sure the location is safe and private, away from distractions – either in person or over the phone / video.
- Not accepting gifts and not having any social contact outside of the counselling session e.g., being friends on social media.
- Ensuring anything discussed in the sessions remains confidential, apart from information about certain serious crimes – which may need to be reported.
The thing about boundaries is, they’re not just relevant to a professional relationship. They serve us in our personal relationships too. While they may differ slightly to those in a professional relationship, essentially, they do the same thing.
They help to make us feel safe and comfortable, and they give us the opportunity to decide what behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable, from others. Boundaries are essentially guidelines of how we want to be treated.
It’s Okay to Put Boundaries in Place
We all deserve to feel safe, respected, and comfortable in our relationships, and setting healthy boundaries is an important part of feeling those things. Without them, we could end up feeling frustrated, angry, or even resentment towards others. With the current pandemic, it’s more important than ever to put healthy boundaries into place. People are living in close quarters, and it’s possible your situation is vastly different to what it was 12-months ago.
Never think of boundaries as being selfish, acknowledge them for what they are – an essential part of self-care.
Setting boundaries won’t always be straightforward. If you’re not used to setting them, and you normally put others needs before your own you might feel a little uncomfortable to begin with. But it’s best to be direct and assertive. A good idea is to figure out your boundaries and write them down, that way when you speak to someone, you’re clear on what you want to say. Always remember, it’s okay to put healthy boundaries in place.
Boundaries will be different for everyone, as we all have different needs to be met. They could be any of the following:
- You need 10-minutes alone time during the day so you can meditate.
- You decide not to accept phone calls after a certain time in the evening.
- You’re not comfortable discussing certain topics with your argumentative friend.
- You need to ask someone to respect your beliefs.
With the current climate, you might even need to reinforce boundaries about your personal space and physical contact.
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First
Whether with friends, family, or work colleagues, the first thing to remember about boundaries is, it’s okay to put them in place. Although it might involve having an uncomfortable conversation, setting healthy boundaries are important for our mental health. They can help us to feel safe and comfortable, and they let others know where our personal boundaries lie, what behaviour we find acceptable and how we’re willing to be treated from now on.
It’s normal to have different boundaries for different people. Not everyone is going to understand or respect them, in which case you may need to limit your contact with certain people, or even prepare yourself to lose some friends along the way. If your boundaries are important, but people refuse to respect them, this will help weed out the ones that don’t have your best interest at heart. Although it might be difficult in the beginning, the people who care about you, will respect them.
Never think of boundaries as being selfish, acknowledge them for what they are – an essential part of self-care. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you look after those around you when the time comes? It’s like being on a plane, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.
Have you ever had to put boundaries in place? How did you feel when you did it, and how did the person you spoke to react? I’d love to read your comments below.