Counseling | Setting Boundaries

Counseling Corner

By: Raquel Garber
Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern

Setting Boundaries

Have you ever found yourself saying “yes” to someone’s request for help when you really wanted to say “No”? or said “No” and ended up feeling guilty for it? Maybe you said “Yes” and then felt angry at yourself because again you got yourself into something that will just add stress into your day. Or maybe you find yourself feeling resentful at the person who asked you for help because he/she did not help you when you needed it? … If you see yourself in one of these scenarios, then probably, you, like most human beings, struggle with boundary issues.

Boundaries are anything that mark a limit. Maybe an easy way to think about boundaries is to think about traffic lanes. Have you ever found yourself driving on a street where the lanes were not marked? Like traffic lanes, boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that give us a sense of safety and protection. Personal boundaries determine the amount of space you allow between yourself and others. This space can be physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, financial and/or sexual. Personal boundaries help you decide what types of communication, behavior, and interaction are appropriate.

Have you ever found yourself driving on a street where the lanes were not marked? Like traffic lanes, boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that give us a sense of safety and protection.

As with most of our behavior repertory, setting personal boundaries is something we learn during childhood. Maybe you learned to say “Yes” as a way to please others and that by being available to others you received approval, acceptance and maybe even love. Maybe you were told that you were being selfish when you indicated you didn’t want to do something that someone else wanted you to do. Or you were afraid of being judged or excluded if you didn’t give in. Maybe you felt unlovable and found that by taking care of the needs of others you became indispensable to them. Little by little, with these kinds of behaviors, personal boundaries become eroded and diminish one’s sense of self-esteem.

Here is the scoop. There are no clear rules in what is and what a healthy boundary isn’t. Only you can define that for yourself. Because what feels comfortable and safe for one person, might not feel the same for someone else. The answer is within you. The question to start asking yourself has been pointed out by Melody Beattie, in her classic book “Codependent No More.” She suggests to begin asking yourself:

“What is the motivation for what you’re doing? Are you doing something because you made a conscious choice to do it, or are you acting from guilt and obligation? Are you choosing to give or giving compulsively without thinking about what you’re doing? Are you hoping someone will like or love you if you do something for, or give something to, her or him? Do you feel lovable and likable, and have self-esteem? Or do you have to prove those things to other people and yourself? How do you feel when you’re done doing the behavior? Do you feel resentful, used, and victimized? Or do you feel comfortable with and responsible for your choices?” (Beattie, M. 2011).

These guidelines are meant to serve as a first step to examining where you’re at regarding personal boundaries. In future articles we will explore more about this important topic, such as the effects of unhealthy boundaries on your health and practical ways to begin setting healthy boundaries.

Source: Beattie, M. (2011) Codependent No More. Workbook. Hazelden. Center City, Minnesota.

At Community Resource Center’s Counseling Department, we provide empathic, dynamic and solution-oriented counseling where clients can learn to navigate and transform challenges and live healthy lives.

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