Live Better. Love Better. Work Better.

Boundaries are Mean… Right?!

Written by Kara Thompson, Licensed Social Worker

Boundaries have been quite the hot topic in the mental health and wellness space recently. Maybe you are familiar with Nedra Glover Tawwab, therapist and author of the New York Times bestseller “Set Boundaries, Find Peace.” A prominent voice on social media platforms such as Instagram, Nedra speaks to the realistic and difficult situations that often challenge our boundaries. She uses her expertise in working with couples and individuals to encourage healthy boundary setting, empowering us to examine the beliefs we hold around boundaries in relationships with others. It is her work that has inspired me to reflect on some common boundary-related statements I hear from my own clients. Do any of these sound familiar?

“It would be mean for me to set a boundary… right?!”

Boundaries are not inherently mean! We can communicate boundaries and still be compassionate and empathetic. While boundaries are often looked at as a way to honor and protect one’s own needs, they can also be incredibly powerful in honoring relationships. By identifying and communicating the boundaries we are looking for in relationships with others, we’re demonstrating a healthy commitment to building and sustaining the relationship. Often we may avoid communication around boundaries but continue to carry feelings of resentment and frustration in unhealthy relationship patterns. Setting a boundary can provide freedom to this repetitive pattern. If you are finding that the thought of boundary setting feels “mean” or “bad,” this may be an indicator that you hold some sort of maladaptive belief about communication of needs. Boundaries do not have to sound like “I never want you in my life again.” This is an example of a rigid and permanent boundary, but other types of boundaries may be healthier and more realistic for us. Boundaries do not need to be tied to an infinite timeline.  

“I can’t set a boundary without really explaining it to them… right?!”

Actually, no! We can fall into the trap of using explanations as justification for our boundary setting. But, what if we don’t need to justify anything at all? It is possible to communicate a boundary compassionately and empathetically without a 15-minute monologue of all the reasons for this boundary’s existence. This may sound something like “I’m not able to text you back during my workday” or “I’m not interested in engaging in that conversation with you.” While you may find yourself wanting to provide an explanation to the boundary, pause to ask yourself these questions: “Is this explanation for them? Or is this explanation for me to avoid the discomfort in setting the boundary?”

“I should not be feeling uncomfortable about setting this boundary… right?!”

There is a common misconception that we shouldn’t feel discomfort or guilt in setting boundaries with others. But actually, feeling uncomfortable does not indicate that the boundary was wrong in being set. Boundaries often lead to a shift in relationships, aka change. It is common to feel guilt and discomfort when initiating change, even when we feel that the boundary is what we want and need. Not to mention, this whole “boundary setting” thing may feel new and unfamiliar with us, which is often accompanied by feeling strange and a bit awkward. It is important that we acknowledge these feelings when they creep up for us. By naming, honoring, and passing through the emotion, we are actively acknowledging our own needs while practicing acceptance of dialectics (the integration of opposites). For example, we can feel confidence and guilt simultaneously when setting boundaries. On the other side, someone with who we are setting boundaries may feel disappointed and understanding of the boundary we have set. While these emotions may seem opposing to one another, it is healthy to learn how to hold space for both… all while remembering: we are not responsible for the emotions and reactions of others. 

Boundary-setting can be difficult to navigate, especially if we are working towards re-claiming healthy boundaries in our relationships. It may be helpful to be supported by a therapist through this introspective work. If you are interested in taking that next step, reach out to us at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact us online or by phone at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment with a clinician today.

Symmetry Counseling Recent News Image 4
Recent Posts

When to Go to Couples Therapy? When You Notice These 3 Sign

Apr 30, 2024

Zoe Mittman, LSW If you’re asking the question “when to go to couples therapy”, you are in the right place. I am going to spend some time talking about 3 signs couples therapy may be a good fit for you.…

Read More

Healing the Heart – Tips for How to Get Over a Breakup

Apr 23, 2024

Breakups can be extremely difficult for both the heart and the mind. Grieving the loss of a relationship is taxing both mentally and emotionally. Whether you initiated the breakup or are the individual being broken up with, the pain and…

Read More

Surviving the Holidays: 5 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Apr 16, 2024

Paula Gonzalez MA, LPC, ADHD-CCSP, CIMHP                                                                                         The Christmas holiday season can be filled with “tidings of comfort and joy!.” It can also be filled with lots of invitations to holiday parties that will have you “rockin’ around the Christmas tree…

Read More