I was recently asked to run a workshop on professional boundaries for Cartwheel Arts, an Art for Wellbeing charity that I work with. It was really interesting hearing everyone’s perspectives on what boundaries meant to them personally. This got me thinking about personal boundaries and why they’re important.
I thought about boundaries in my life and I realised how important they are in forming the basis of healthy relationships. They inform not only our relationships with others but also with ourselves. I’ve certainly found it challenging over the years getting the balance right between being there for others and being there for myself.
Psychologist Katayune Kaeni, PsyD, describes personal boundaries as: “knowing your own limits, needs and desires in order to maintain your sense of self and express that to another person, so you can teach them how to treat you.”
We are individually responsible for how we allow ourselves to be treated, although it might not always seem that way. If we are able to have a clear understanding of our own limits and needs, we can then communicate these to others, which will show them what we will and won’t accept.
Poor boundaries can have a really detrimental impact on our emotional wellbeing, I often hear friends and clients talking about feeling “burnt out”, feeling overwhelmed with responsibility for others, or feeling that someone in their life has become a burden. These scenarios can lead to resentment, stress and relationship issues.
Healthy boundaries don’t have to be rigid and will probably change with different people. The most important thing is that we are clear in our own minds, so that we can really look after ourselves and our emotional wellbeing.
When discussing this topic with others it often brings up the fear of saying “no”. How can such a simple word be so difficult to express.
Boundaries are generally learnt in childhood. If yours were not respected it is possible to believe you don’t have the right to say no or perhaps you might feel that in order to be liked you can’t say no. You might also be scared of hurting someone’s feelings if you say no. These thoughts and feelings are all understandable, but the truth is that everyone has the right to say no and your primary responsibility is you.
Breaking these patterns from childhood can be difficult and it takes practice. As you develop healthy boundaries, you’ll be able to develop more nourishing and balanced relationships.
But how can you set boundaries?
Try to write down the actions & behaviours of others that you find unacceptable so that you can recognize and act on them. Also write down how you would like to be treated and try communicating this where appropriate.
Learn to say ‘No’ and focus on your own needs sometimes, most importantly listen to your own inner voice and trust what it is telling you.
Make self-care a priority. Give yourself permission to put yourself first. This might seem difficult, but starting slowly, do one thing a day that is just for you.
By having healthy boundaries, we communicate better with others, we are more in touch with the world around us, our confidence increases and we ultimately have more control over our lives.