by Annabelle Parr
Do you ever feel like you can’t say no? Do you believe that you are responsible for the emotions of others? Do you take others’ opinions and needs into account before your own? Do you find yourself unsure of what you want or need (Eddins, 2015)? If so, you are certainly not alone. However, your feelings, thoughts, and needs matter. By setting some boundaries in your life, you can begin to treat your needs as important.
Boundaries and Anxiety
For people who struggle with anxiety, learning how to create healthy boundaries can be a helpful tool. Though sometimes people cope with anxiety by creating unnecessary boundaries or avoiding situations that serve as triggers, other times anxiety is experienced as a result of unclear lines between self and other. When you don’t protect your sense of self, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and take on responsibility for everything and everyone (Eddins, 2015). This can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety. It is not hard for a vicious cycle to ensue, where a lack of boundaries leads to anxiety, and where anxiety leads to a feeling that you cannot set clear and effective limits.
What Are Boundaries
So what exactly are boundaries? Boundaries help us to define who we are. They orient us in our relationships, and signify to us and to others where “I end and you begin” (Eddins, 2015). Boundaries can apply to any area of our lives, and can range from material boundaries to physical, mental, or emotional boundaries to sexual or spiritual boundaries (Lancer, 2015). Boundaries are very personal, and there is not a right or wrong answer regarding to how to set ones that work for you. They are based on your beliefs, values, opinions, and needs (“12 Signs,” 2015).
Boundaries as an Act of Love
A common misconception for people who struggle in this area is that setting boundaries is selfish. However, self-care is not selfish. Have you ever flown on an airplane, and heard the stewardess tell the passengers in case of an emergency to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs? This “oxygen-mask” rule is a profound metaphor for the idea that we cannot take care of others if we have neglected to take care of ourselves first.
Setting boundaries for ourselves and giving ourselves permission to articulate our needs is an act of self-love (Strgar, 2010). And in the wise words of Brené Brown, “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves” (2010). Furthermore, when we set clear limits in our lives, we are better able to be compassionate towards others. Brown (2010) states that “the heart of compassion is really acceptance,” and when we lack boundaries, we are not accepting our own needs and we may have a difficult time accepting others if we feel they are taking advantage of us.
So contrary to this idea that boundaries are selfish, they actually help us love ourselves and others better.
How Therapy Can Help
You are the only one who has the ability to set boundaries in your life. However, therapy can be helpful in navigating this challenging task. Therapy offers a place where you can explore your values, your feelings, and your relationships. Your therapist can help support you in the process of determining where you need to establish stronger boundaries or areas in which you might benefit from more flexibility.
Therapy can also be a good place to experience a relationship with very clear boundaries. Dr. Irvin D. Yalom (2002) describes “therapy as a dress rehearsal for life,” meaning that it is a safe place to encounter challenging aspects of life and relationships before you face them outside of the therapy room. An important goal of therapy is to take what you have learned and apply it to the rest of your life, but it can be helpful to practice new skills in a safe space first.
Don’t Forget to Be Kind To Yourself
One final thing to note is that boundaries are learned (Lancer, 2015). If you are not used to setting clear limits in your life, know that it is a skill that takes practice. The best way to start learning this skill is to cultivate self-awareness and practice asserting yourself (Lancer, 2015). Remember, it is important to give yourself grace and to seek support throughout this process. If you feel like you could benefit from some professional support in developing boundaries in your life…
CSAM IS HERE TO HELP
If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12 Signs you lack healthy boundaries (and why you need them). (2015). Harley Therapy Counselling Blog. Retrieved from http://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/healthy-boundaries.htm
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Eddins, R. (2015). Keeping Good Boundaries & Getting Your Needs Met. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/keeping-good-boundaries-getting-your-needs-met/
Lancer, D. (2015). What are personal boundaries? How do I get some?. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-personal-boundaries-how-do-i-get-some/
Stgar, W. (2010). The importance of boundaries. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-strgar/working-boundaries_b_717339.html
Yalom, I. D. (2002). The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.