Basics of Boundaries

Talking about boundaries is quite popular these days.  When I see clients that want to work on issues related to boundaries, I often find that they have focused on either, what I call, reactive boundary-setting or they have taken a rigid approach to boundary-setting.  My approach is different.  I have a strong belief that boundaries start within us, not as a response to external demands.  Boundaries should also have a certain amount of flexibility, though not so much that they undermine their purpose.

If we set reactive boundaries it becomes increasingly difficult to be consistent with our boundaries when we are tired, hungry, anxious, or overwhelmed by our circumstances.  It also becomes difficult to be consistent when we set boundaries based on how we feel in the moment.  If today I feel energized and able to deal with a little more stress, so I remove a boundary, the other person will likely be confused, hurt, or angry when I set a firm boundary on a day when I am not feeling so well.  This can lead to a whole host of negative feelings toward ourselves or others that really are not fair to either of us.  This is a system that sets both people up for a failing relationship.

If, however, we set our boundaries based on our core values, we are able to be more consistent in setting boundaries for ourselves and others.  We are able to set boundaries that protect us from entering into situations we later regret.  A good place to start learning how to set boundaries for yourself is to ask yourself:

What is important to me? What things am I drawn to?

After you make a list (or write an essay if that’s your style) for the things that you value, you are ready for the next to continue with the rest of the steps for this project.

Steps to figuring out your boundaries:

1.      Use an 11”X14” piece of paper, or larger, to create a collage, picture, mural, expressive art piece, or whatever you would like to call it that represents your life thus far.  Make your project comprehensive, not just the things you want to remember.  This part of the project needs to be accurate.  Accuracy might make you uncomfortable, though it is essential to a successful exercise.

2.      Use a three-step activity to interact with your creation from step one.  Create a list of things from step one that you want to hold onto.  Create a separate list of things you would like to let go of or change.  Make a third list of things you want in the future.

3.      Use step two to create a list of goals for yourself.  Set your boundaries where they help you achieve your goals and honor your values.

Refer back to your list of what is important to make sure you are being congruent with your values and goals.  Sometimes we make goals based on family traditions or other external factors.  Maybe our values do not match up with these traditions or factors; these can cause anxiety or discontent in working toward our goals.  Checking your goals against your values fosters authenticity.

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