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Is Setting Boundaries Important In Relationships?

Erin Ameri, LPC

One of the main sources of anxiety I find clients struggling with is about setting boundaries in their relationships. Many of us tend to fall on the “people pleasing” scale and often feel guilty or selfish when we put our needs first. The problem with this is it leads to feelings of resentment and unmet needs, which don’t allow us to show up authentically in relationships. Social connection and support are powerful tools when we are engaging in proper boundaries. Boundaries look different for everyone, and therapy can help you identify what boundaries are important for you.

What do boundaries mean to you? 

A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is to protect and take care of yourself and your needs. Setting boundaries can often feel overwhelming and challenging, but it can also be freeing and lead to less anxiety and frustration. It is important to identify what boundaries look like for you in different types of relationships, whether that is friendships, intimate relationships, work relationships, family relationships, etc. 

Why is it important to set boundaries? 

Boundaries allow your inner dialogue to come to life. They provide you the opportunity to express your wants and needs to the people in your life. Setting healthy boundaries can have many benefits:

  • Building self-confidence
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Avoidance of Burnout
  • Increased Autonomy
  • Establishing long-lasting healthy relationships
  • Improving positive thinking and actions

What are the benefits to setting boundaries early?

It is never too late to set a boundary, however it can be helpful to work on setting boundaries early in relationships. The advantage to setting boundaries early is less confusion or uncertainty about you need in that relationship. This sets a precedent for others about how they can approach your time and energy within the realm of their relationship with you. 

Tips for Setting Better Boundaries:  

  1. Be Specific/Assertive. Spend time reflecting on what boundaries would be helpful for you. Once you have a clear idea of what you need, practice being assertive and firm about that boundary. An example might be, “I have too much on my plate this week to go to dinner, can we schedule something for the following week?”
  2. Decide on consequences ahead of time. What will happen if someone crosses a boundary? Will you stop talking to them? Remove privileges? Or simply call out their behavior? This may depend on the type of relationship you have with someone and how many attempts you have made at setting boundaries with them.
  3. Expect violations. People will test your boundaries. This is where consequences come in handy and allow you to stay true to the boundary you have set. It can be helpful to identify what is in your control with your boundaries and what is not in your control.
  4. Be consistent. Setting boundaries takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself as you navigate what works well for you and what does not. Writing out your clear boundaries can help you refer back to them and stay consistent.
  5. Get used to it. Boundary setting is not a one-time event. Once you set a boundary, the long-term work of defending that boundary begins. Setting boundaries is not easy, but the more you practice the easier it gets. 

How do you know your boundaries are working?

Clients often report feeling more confident and self-assured when their boundaries are working. You can check in with yourself about your relationships with others and reflect on how you find yourself feeling; are you feeling less burnt out? Do you have more time for yourself? Do you have more autonomy over your time and energy? If the answer to these questions is yes, you have likely already seen some of the benefits to your boundary setting. 

Are you having a hard time setting boundaries in your relationships? If you’re struggling sticking to the boundaries you have set or knowing where to begin, schedule a time to come in and talk with one of our therapists.

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