Setting boundaries is a very daunting and difficult task to go through with. Oftentimes, we fear that setting a boundary will result in catastrophe, thus we convince ourselves that it is easier to keep things the way they are in an attempt of avoiding these stressors. What we fail to realize is that setting a boundary is often the one thing that is between our current reality and a reality in which we feel more positive, empowered, and free. Let’s talk about this topic of setting boundaries and break down how to implement them into your life.
What are boundaries
To start, we need to understand what boundaries are. In some families, boundaries are not a topic of discussion. Even socially, it is just now that we are starting to truly talk about setting boundaries with those around us and the benefits to doing so. Per Oxford Languages, a boundary can either be described as “a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line” or “a limit of a subject or sphere of activity”. To translate this into what boundaries mean in everyday life, we are marking the limits of our time, space, and energy. We are setting a divided line to limit these factors to protect our peace, autonomy, and health. Boundaries can be set in different areas of our life. For example, boundaries can be related to:
This relates to your body and your space. These boundaries include people touching you, occupying space that is encroaching on your comfortability, food, and rest.
Emotional or Mental
This relates to what takes a toll on your mental health or emotional reserves. This can be related to helping others with problems that take away from your own ability to emotionally regulate. This can be related to attachments to other people or what you share with others. This can also equate to the thoughts that are consuming you. In total, this is connected to protecting your emotional and mental wellbeing.
This relates to what you give your precious time to. The saying “time is money” means more and more as you continue to age. What you give your time to is just as valuable if not increasingly more valuable to money. This boundary relates to who and what you are giving your time to.
This relates to consent, sexual safety, and communication about sex. This boundary refers to what you are comfortable with sexually, verbalizing consent, and so on.
Financial or Material
This relates to what or who you are giving your financial reserves to. This can also equate to your material goods. This boundary is about how you share and utilize your money and material items.
How to know you need to set a boundary
Knowing when to set a boundary does not look the same for each individual. There are also some individuals who might struggle in accurately depicting when setting a boundary is necessary. Individuals who people please, fear rejection, or fear abandonment might especially struggle with this. When determining if it is important to set a boundary with someone, including ourselves, consider these factors:
- In what way do I feel satisfied with the way my boundaries are being adhered to?
- Are my physical boundaries being maintained by parties in my life?
- Do I have enough time for the things that make me happy?
- Is my sexual partner respecting what I am comfortable with sexually?
- Am I giving so much materially or financially that I am not left with enough for myself?
- Is the time I spend in the day balanced the way I like?
- Am I spending too much time at work that I don’t have enough time for my family?
- Am I spending so much time taking care of other people that I don’t have time for myself?
- How drained am I feeling?
- Am I experiencing burnout?
- Am I emotionally spent?
- Do I have emotional reserves to tend to myself and those I love?
- How are my relationships?
- Are my relationships leaving me drained?
- Do I feel I am getting out of the relationship what I am giving to it?
- Are my relationships providing me with positivity?
Signs that could equate to needing to set a boundary include:
- Compassion fatigue
- Short fuse
- Difficulty saying no
Why should you set a boundary
Setting boundaries allows for you to communicate your needs and your limitations. By doing this we are protecting ourselves and showing other people how we expect to be treated. At times, we have to set boundaries with ourselves. By setting boundaries with ourselves we are protecting ourselves from our own bad habits and behaviors that limit us. Setting boundaries with ourselves and with others can lead to:
- Overall improved happiness
- More balance in one’s life
- Greater autonomy
- Improved emotional wellness
- More self-respect
- Greater satisfaction in relationships
DBT skill to assist in setting a boundary
There are many interpersonal communication techniques and skills included with the DBT or dialectical behavior therapy modality. DBT operates heavily on acronyms and when it comes to setting boundaries, the acronym associated is DEARMAN. Let’s walk through what this acronym means:
D- The “D” stands for DESCRIBE. The intention here is to describe the facts of the situation in which you are needing to set a boundary.
E- The “E” stands for EXPRESS. Express your feelings utilizing “I” statements. “I” statements keeps the other person from feeling like you are putting blame on them, thus reduces defenses.
A- The “A” stands for ASSERT. This is a very important step of setting a boundary. By being assertive you are clearly describing what you need and giving specific requests or instructions.
R- The “R” stands for REINFORCE. Reinforce does not mean hand them a lollipop for agreeing to the boundary that you set, but rather this means responding with a “thank you” and/or smile. By doing this, we are reinforcing the encouraged change in behavior.
M- The “M” stands for MINDFULNESS. It is important to stay on topic and not to get distracted by other conversations. This can be difficult as some personalities of the other party will bring up other circumstances if they feel they are on the defense. Stay true and focused on your goal.
A- The second “A” stands for APPEAR CONFIDENT. This is not as easy as it seems on paper, especially when talking to an authority figure. However, to accomplish this, maintain appropriate eye contact, keep a straight posture, and assert yourself with a firm but respectful tone of voice.
N- The “N” stands for NEGOTIATE. Negotiating does not mean giving up on your boundary and negating it all together. What this takes into account is the space for compromise. The important part of this last step is to keep your original goal in mind and knowing what compromises you are comfortable with in accomplishing this goal.
How setting a boundary might look different for different people in your life
The amazing thing about these DBT skills explained above, is that they can be utilized across the board. We can take these skills and apply them to the person we are setting a boundary with, tweaking our approach as necessary. For example, with a boss, the professionality might look different than speaking with a friend or a spouse. With a spouse, we most likely know their own boundaries and communication styles better than a stranger or a boss; therefore, we can utilize that to our advantage when having these conversations by demonstrating respect in these regards.
Additional considerations when setting a boundary
There are a few other factors to keep in mind when considering setting or going about setting healthy boundaries:
- Values: What are your values? How is your life and relationships actively adhering to these values?
- Emotions: Many times, we feel compelled to bury our feelings, especially when these feelings are too overwhelming. Our emotions are incredible tools that signal to us when changes need to be made in our life.
- Body: With emotions comes somatic experiences. Ask yourself “how has my body felt lately?”, “have it felt fatigued and low energy?”, “do I wake up every day jittery?”, “have I been able to sleep well?”
How BPC Can Help
If you or someone you know suffers with setting boundaries and/or wants to receive mental health support, contact Brittani Persha Counseling at our main office line 713-364-8645 to set up an appointment with one of our adult and child therapists. You may also visit us at https://brittanipershacounseling.com/ to learn more about us and our services.
About The Author
Avery Benedict, LPC-A is a therapist at Brittani Persha Counseling in Houston, TX. She received her undergraduate degree in Human Relations and Educational Psychology from the University of Texas. She continued her education and received her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Sam Houston University. Avery has worked in residential and partial hospitalization treatment settings for patients of all ages who have severe OCD, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. She has also worked with women and children who have undergone domestic violence and sexual assault. She currently specializes in working with pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults utilizing CBT, DBT, and ACT modalities. Avery’s mission is to utilize the passion and education she was blessed with to bring mental wellness to our community one client at a time. If you would like to learn more about Avery, feel free to visit any of these sites below or set up a free phone consultation.
Setting boundaries is not easy but it is a vital element of relationships, even with ourselves. To learn more about setting boundaries, visit these resources below: