Usually I have a long list of things to blog about but for this month's issue I've been drawing a blank. I am not usually stuck for ideas so believe me when I say this has been causing me immense frustration for the last week. So with that in mind I wondered; what seems to have been coming into my therapy room a lot recently? Boundaries! Bingo! I wish I'd thought of that idea last week........
I've created a few Instagram posts where I discuss the importance of having boundaries and them being essential to our mental health so this post will look at what are they, why we need them and most importantly how can we start to put them in place!
So what is a boundary? A boundary is a limit or a rule we set for ourselves within any relationship; be that with a friend, a partner, family member or even a work colleague. Having healthy boundaries means we can open up to people and share our intimate or vulnerable thoughts, but also means we're able to say no sometimes. Whenever I discuss boundaries for the first time with a client I always refer to the bill of human rights and, in my opinion, the most important point on it:
Freedom of expression - "people should be able to say what they want as long as it does not go against the law or another human right" this includes being able to say no without fear of judgement or retribution.
What does that sentence mean to you? Usually when I mention this to clients it gets a nod of acknowledgement, some prolonged thought and then a response along the lines of "oh that makes sense". It's something that can be so easily forgotten but is so vitally important. How healthy is a relationship where you feel you can't say what you really feel or want to do?
Usually we'd expect our parents to teach us about boundaries when we're young children through praise and punishment in order for us to develop a sense of right and wrong but also mutual respect. However, that isn't always possible nor do we each learn the same set of rules! Meeting someone with different boundaries can be difficult to accept or even acknowledge which may cause a relationship to breakdown or produce high levels of conflict.
So why do we need them? The CBT/REBT therapist in me goes back to universal unconditional acceptance; meaning we only upset ourselves if we try to get others to change and not accept them fully for who they are. However, by having boundaries we're able to let other people know what is OK for us to tolerate and what isn't. Boundaries are ours alone and can be individual to each person based on our values. Some of them we'll share with others and some are unique to you; it'd be boring if we were all the same right?!?
If you feel a situation is coming up where you maybe feel coerced into doing something or just really don't want to do it what do you say? Do you say anything and go along with it? Or do you consciously avoid the situation in order to not have to deal with it? Do you think this works well for you? I am going to go out on a limb and say it's probably not the healthiest thing to do.... so here is a list of phrases I've put together to help you say what you might be feeling but in an emotional healthier way. Feel free to read them aloud or better still find a mirror, or turn your phone camera to selfie mode, and read them aloud to yourself.
I am not comfortable with this
Please don't do that
I'd rather you didn't do that
I don't want to do that
This isn't OK for me
I'd prefer to do something else
Maybe another time
I've decided against that
How did you find that? Can you add any more to the list? Of course it's much easier to say it to yourself than it is to someone else but as with all new things it takes time & practice; all new habits have to start somewhere.
So now you have a list of things to say, including hopefully some of your own phrases, we can start to think about how you can introduce healthy boundaries into your friendships & relationships. Below is a list of tips & tricks that I talk through with my clients in order to help them introduce healthy boundaries into their lives:
Know your limits - know what is acceptable to you and what isn't.
Know your values - what is important to you and how can you protect it?
Listen to your emotions - don't create a state of avoidance, the only person that will feel the resentment is you
Respect yourself - if you always give into others you're putting their needs above your own
Respect others - ensure your actions aren't at the expense of others, learn to compromise. This isn't about winning or losing
Be assertive - this is my favourite as it means you can state your intentions using phrases like we've discussed above. You can say no whilst still being respectful to yourself & those around you.
Think of the long term - Some days you give more, some days you take more. Be aware of the long term view of the relationship so you can create a balance that works for both of you.
Putting boundaries in place doesn't make you selfish, it means you're taking an opportunity to put yourself first and do what's right for you. If you struggle with this and feel you could do with some additional help then please don't hesitate to get in touch with me to discuss booking an appointment. Change starts today!
Till next month
P.S don't forget to follow me on Instagram at @laurenstreetcounselling