Earlier this week on Instagram and I asked followers what they wanted to know more about on Wellness Wednesday and the suggestion I decided to write about is setting boundaries.

Setting boundaries is incredibly important in our personal and professional lives, and something that I often talk about with clients. The problem is that for many people, we feel guilty when setting boundaries. For example, maybe you do not want your neighbors visiting you for hours each time they stop by, but how do you politely stop this behavior from happening? You don’t want to offend your neighbor or make them believe that you don’t value the relationship. However, you also know that there are other things you could be and rather be doing than talking with them for three hours multiple times a week.

Before exploring how to set boundaries, let’s take a step back.  In psychotherapy when we refer to boundaries, we are often talking about the personal limits and outlines that you define, which can be psychological, physical, emotional, and even spiritual. Boundaries do not always need to be rigid and rather can be flexible. I believe that too often when recommending to a client that they set boundaries, their initial hesitation is because they envision very rigid boundaries and offending others. With flexible boundaries, a person can create limits by determining who or what to let in or out, but also adjust depending on the context.

When it comes to mental health, issues with boundary setting are often common in cases that involve substance abuse, personality disorders, family dysfunction, power relations (e.g., domestic violence and other abusive relationships), and even unhealthy of work-life wellness. In such cases, setting boundaries can quite powerful, as they positively affect our overall wellness, as well as give us a sense of strength.  

Boundaries also prevent us from harmful situations. For example, clients who are in relationships with family members who are manipulative and abusive will often feel guilt and shame about stepping back from those relationships. I will often hear, “…but that person is my (fill in the blank). Is it bad if I cut ties?” Or they might even experience guilt or shame from another family member, such as a sibling, who makes comments such as, “That is your (fill in the blank). How could you not speak to them anymore?” But instead we should ask, is okay for you to continue to experience the abuse from the harmful person in order to maintain the relationship? Or would it be healthier for you to create a boundary?

So how can you create boundaries? Well, there are a few steps.

  1. You need to consider what are your limits. It is okay to process this from a logical perspective, as well as take into consideration your emotions. Sure, this person is your boss, but is it okay that she calls you at 11:00 PM when you are not on call? How do you feel about those late-night calls? Maybe they make you angry and irritable that your boss does not respect your home life.
  2. Give yourself permission to set the boundary and notice when it is difficult for you to follow-through. What would happen if you don’t answer work calls when you leave the office for the day? Can you talk to your boss about this and request not to be contacted after-hours, except for really important issues? How can you be flexible?
  3. Once you determine and set your boundaries, assess your overall wellness needs, and practice self-care. Perhaps not only do you stop answering calls in the late evening, but you also turn your phone on silent and disable notifications after 8:00 PM.
  4. If the struggle continues, seek support. Counseling can help you determine why you struggle with boundary setting and empower you to make lasting changes.