What are boundaries?
If you look up boundary in the dictionary, you will 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 are 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.
- Ensuring the location is safe and private, away from distractions – either in person or over the phone / video.
- Not accepting gifts or having 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.
Boundaries aren’t just relevant to a professional relationship; they also serve us in our personal relationships too. While they may differ slightly to those in a professional relationship fundamentally, they do the same thing.
They help us to feel safe and comfortable.
Boundaries are essentially guidelines of how we want to be treated. They determine what behaviour is acceptable from others.
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 a part of feeling those things. Without them, we could end up feeling frustrated, angry, or even resentment towards others. With the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve been living with, it’s more important than ever to put them in place. What feels safe will be different for everyone.
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 regularly put others needs before your own, you might feel a little uncomfortable to begin with. You could also meet some resistance from the person you’re putting boundaries in place with – but be direct and assertive. Before speaking to someone, get clear on your boundaries and write them down, so you know exactly 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 7pm in the evening.
- You’re not comfortable discussing certain topics with your argumentative friend.
- You only visit your parents once a week.
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. It might involve having an uncomfortable conversation, but setting healthy boundaries are important for our mental health. They can help us feel safe and comfortable and let others know where our personal boundaries lie. It gives us control of how we’re willing to be treated.
It’s normal to have different boundaries for different people, but not everyone will understand or respect them. You may need to limit your contact with certain people or prepare yourself to lose some friends. In the beginning, it might be difficult as some people may take it personally. If you feel comfortable explaining your reasons for the boundary and talking through how you’re feeling, this might be helpful. But also remember, it’s up to you how much you share, and everyone will approach the situation differently. For some, enforcing the boundary will be enough, believing that no explanation is needed. For others a conversation about why a boundary is being put in place will feel more comfortable. It’s a personal preference and there is no right or wrong answer – as long as you follow through on your decision. The people who care about you, will respect you and your boundaries.
Never think of boundaries as 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 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.