Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Boundaries
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
BOUNDARIES! That word has almost become a household term. But what in the world is it referring to?
Simply put: Boundaries are your own personal property line. According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townshend, best-selling authors of several books about boundaries, including “Boundaries: When to Say YES and How to Say NO,” “Boundaries in Marriage,” “Boundaries with Kids” and “Boundaries in Dating,” almost everyone feels the need for better boundaries at one time or another.
- Do you feel over-extended and overwhelmed?
- Do you have trouble trying to please that difficult person in your life?
- Do you find yourself being the audience of one to that talker who seems to never shut it down?
- Do you find yourself being the target of all the “lonely hearts” in your friend circle?
- Do you feel exhausted because you have no downtime?
If any of this remotely sounds familiar, it’s time to establish some boundaries!
Boundaries are physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used or violated by others. Boundaries separate where you start and end from where the other person starts and ends.
To set boundaries means to preserve your integrity, take responsibility for who you are and what you need, and take control of your life in a healthy way. There are several categories of boundaries:
- Material Boundaries – These boundaries are often personal – what I allow myself to buy, what I believe is necessary and what is whimsy. They also are established with others – whether to lend something and whether an object is mine or is shared.
- Physical Boundaries – Especially in interpersonal relationships, this is very important. This establishes your personal space, your privacy and your body. For example, are you uncomfortable with a hug? Do you feel respected regarding your body? Is the only privacy you get when you lock a door – or is just a closed door respected?
- Emotional Boundaries – Is there a separation between your emotions and someone else’s? Do you tend to feel responsible when someone else is in a grumpy mood or is angry? Do you take others’ comments personally? Are you free to feel how you feel without having to justify it?
- Sexual Boundaries – Are your expectations being respected? Have you established what is/what is not OK regarding touch?
- Time Boundaries – Have you established clear lines of separation between work and home, between work and “play,” and between work projects and home time?
- Moral Boundaries – Are your beliefs respected and honored? It is important to clearly indicate what is within your moral scope and what is not. Do you feel respected when you disagree with a choice or decline an invitation based on your moral standards?
Boundaries tend to be learned. For example, if yours were not valued as a child, you may not have them as an adult:
- Was a sibling allowed to come into your room and take your belongings without consequence?
- Were you “allowed” to have emotions – or were you told to “dry your eyes and quit your crying”?
- Was a sibling allowed to tickle you until you could barely breathe, disrespecting your pleas to stop?
Even as a youngster, boundaries should be in place and should be respected! However, if yours was a home without boundaries, you can start NOW to establish them!
It is important to illustrate what boundaries are NOT.
Boundaries with a mate are NOT healthy if they are controlling. For example, “Be home by 6 o’clock if you expect to have a meal ready” or “If you don’t clean out the garage, there will be no sexual intimacy from me.”
Boundaries are NOT unreasonable. “We’ve been together for 25 years; you should know what I’m thinking” is clearly unreasonable. Expecting emotional responses to be only what YOU expect is not only NOT about boundaries, it is downright unrealistic. “I would appreciate you going to this party with me, and I expect you to have fun.” We can ask for attendance, but we can’t reasonably ask for an emotion.
Boundaries are necessary to establish healthy relationships, whether they be with friends, colleagues, family or spouse. Expectations are clear, respect and honor are mutual, and “safety” abounds!
Don’t be afraid to clearly state your boundaries – then expect for them to be respected! Everyone wins!