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Boundary Setting: What, Why, and How?


Boundaries are standards that we create for ourselves and others. It is a blueprint of how we want to be treated, helping us assert our needs, protect our peace, and maintain healthy relationships with the people around us. However, recognizing our boundaries and asserting them can be challenging. This is especially true for those who grew up in environments where this wasn’t done in a healthy manner.


There are different kinds of boundaries — emotional, physical, sexual, financial, and temporal, material, and intellectual. During the holiday season, we might also find ourselves needing to set boundaries around our ability to show up for events, COVID-19 protocols, conversation topics, food, alcohol, personal time, and gifts. In navigating this, it is important to remember that we might feel more comfortable setting some kinds of boundaries over others.What is important is being aware of these differences so that we might start being more intentional about how we handle these situations.


There are also three different kinds of boundary styles — porous, rigid, and healthy boundaries. This too can differ based on the person, situation, context, and kind of boundary that person is trying to set. While porous boundaries are when someone is overly trusting of others, finds it hard to say no or separate themselves from others, communicates passively, cannot assert personal values, and lets anyone get close to them, rigid boundaries exist on the other end of the spectrum. Someone with rigid boundaries might keep everyone at a distance, be suspicious and cynical of others, be extremely guarded about personal information, avoid conflict, and communicate aggressively. Having healthy boundaries would mean existing at the center these two extremes — selectively letting people in based on how they make you feel, being able to say no when necessary, appropriately sharing personal information, communicating assertively, be there for others while also being separate from them, and treating conflict as a normal part of life.


There are several benefits of setting healthy boundaries, both with yourself and with others. Firstly, it is an act of self-love and self-care. It is only by asserting our needs and standards that we can ensure to be treated in the way that we deserve. Secondly, it helps create a sense of compassion for others and yourself. Although it can feel like setting boundaries is selfish, it often comes from a place of respect and a desire to be communicative. This signals to others that we care about ourselves and our relationship with them. In the same vein, it can lessen the anger and resentment we feel towards others for not giving us what we want. It also improves our communication skills, self-awareness, and makes us better friends and partners — asserting our own boundaries helps us learn how to respect the boundaries of others!


Despite knowing this, it might still feel challenging to be assertive about your boundaries. This is especially the case with family, close friends, or people who have trouble receiving direct and honest feedback. This holiday season, let’s try to remember that: (i) your boundaries are for you, not for anyone else, (ii) it is not “selfish” or “mean” to assert your boundaries, (iii) you can only control how you communicate, not how other people react, (iv) feeling nervous or guilty about asserting your boundaries is natural and doesn’t indicate that it’s wrong, and (v) while it can be difficult to be on the receiving end of these conversations, healthy relationships ultimately involve respecting each other’s boundaries.


When we set boundaries, we are being kind to ourselves and to the people around us. We’re giving our loved ones permission to assert their needs as well. Keeping this in mind, let's try to approach these conversations with intentionality, mutual respect, and with a constructive mindset. If others fail to receive it, we can choose to distance ourselves from them or the situation, to whatever degree is feasible to us.


Wrote by:

Nethra Palepu

Mental Health Counselor


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