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Boundaries: Who Are They For & How Are They Enforced?

Written by Brittany Lieberman, LGPC

Edited by Seth Yavit, LPC

Discussing the topic of preferred personal boundaries can have real, lasting, relationship-saving benefits. That being said, do you know how to define a boundary? How about ways to implement them? What about maintaining boundaries? Let’s explore this beneficial and potentially complex topic together.  

Who Are Boundaries For? 

Anyone who is currently in a relationship can benefit from boundaries, but most importantly, boundaries are for the individual to establish the specific rule or limits. Thus, subjecting others to your boundaries is both a responsibility and a challenge for you to manage. The example below provides us with a look at someone who needs boundaries and her attempts to set them.  

Example

Jane Doe started therapy to improve her relationship with food. She addressed comments made by family members, which have led to feelings of shame, contempt, and despair. These comments are derivative of eating choices that the client makes during dinners with her family. Jane has engaged in disordered eating behaviors as a way of coping with emotions. Jane began exploring the act of setting boundaries with her therapist. Specific boundaries were implemented, including no longer tolerating when others comment on what or how much she eats. Jane acknowledged that enforcing and reinforcing these boundaries would be her responsibility, which prepared her for the challenge. Ultimately, this boundary would create an opportunity for Jane to improve her relationship with food and family. 

What Does It Take to Enforce and Reinforce a Boundary?

Enforcing boundaries requires the use of clear and descriptive language. It can be done preemptively or at the moment someone performs a behavior that we find unacceptable. What would this look like with Jane and the example above? Jane could inform the members of her family how it makes her feel when they make comments about her eating choices. Additionally, she could tell them that she will no longer tolerate people commenting on what or how much she eats and share how she will react if they disrespect her boundary. Another option would be to attend family gatherings after dinner has finished or leave before dinner begins. 

Reinforcing boundaries requires reminding someone of what you will no longer tolerate. Let’s take a look at how Jane might reinforce her boundaries with her family. When a member of her family comments on her eating choices, she responds by reminding them of how those comments make her feel. She could then leave before dinner is served. How about timing? This is another topic that can be discussed in therapy. Enforcing and reinforcing boundaries can often be a process of trying and trying again, so Jane will have to decide if and when she is ready to give her family another chance to respect her boundary. 

Do Boundaries Make You Selfish?  

In a way, yes. The act of setting and maintaining boundaries can sometimes be viewed as selfish. However, it is important to note that this type of selfishness is not malicious and is necessary for the survival of your relationships. Boundaries create a healthy interaction between two or more people, which proves that selfishness should be permissible in some instances. In this way, we may need to act selfishly in order to establish relationship-saving boundaries so that a healthy relationship can begin.

Hopefully, you can see how boundaries are needed for any healthy relationship and that they are the responsibility of the person establishing them. Jane’s example proved to us that boundary reinforcement is just as important as establishing boundaries. Now, I encourage you to do the same. Do you know what boundaries are needed for your relationships? How do you plan to enforce and reinforce those boundaries? Perhaps discussing boundaries with your therapist can be helpful. Explore our counseling services online to see how we can help, and get in touch with Symmetry Counseling today to get paired with a therapist in Chicago, Washington D.C., or Phoenix.

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