What are Healthy Boundaries?

“No means no” is a healthy boundary that many of us grew up knowing about, and yet saying “no” can still be so hard in many areas of life. Many of us are “people pleasers” and fear that saying no to something or someone will make us look difficult, mean, weak, cheap, uptight, or unfair. We may worry that setting limits and boundaries with others will result in jeopardizing relationships, success at work, or just be difficult and unpleasant to do.

A boundary is an internal limit that you notice, feel, and communicate to others in verbal and non-verbal ways so that your boundaries/limits/needs (and those of others) can be respected.

Certain boundaries are culturally based, such as how close we stand or speak to one another, how we give or receive gifts, and how we interact with others based on variables such as gender or age. Other boundaries can be highly personal, perhaps based on values, ideals, or past experiences.

What are some Healthy Boundaries?

Boundaries can shift and change, depending on the many contextual variables such as your mood, who’s around, the location, even the time of day, year, season or month. For example, you might find it “acceptable” to have your kids sit on Santa’s knee at the mall during the holidays for a family photo, but you would likely not let them sit on an unfamiliar man’s lap at the mall any other time of year.

Healthy boundaries can occur in different contexts

At work:

Saying “no” to working when you are sick, asking a colleague to respect no smoking signs. Speaking to human resources if someone makes an inappropriate comment or gesture towards you.

Dating:

Saying no to unwanted sexual activity (even if you said yes at an earlier point), taking time for yourself, ending relationships that are harmful or toxic for you.

Family:

Asking others to remove their shoes in your home, deciding what you’re comfortable discussing (or not discussing) with family members, not giving your kids candy or toys without your permission.

Friends:

Not calling or texting past certain hours unless it’s an emergency, not dating someone you know is “off-limits”.

How can therapy help me develop or enforce healthy boundaries?

Therapy can help you identify what you want and need to feel healthy and safe in relationships. Therapy can help you to find the words to express yourself in a kind and respectful way, and to manage the difficult emotions that may arise when you communicate boundaries – or boundary crossings – with others. Therapy can also help you to notice and respect the boundaries of others, which can be hard to do when your own emotions are running high.
Setting clear healthy boundaries will help set expectations both for how you will interact with others, as well as how others will treat you.

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