Understanding and Enforcing Boundaries

Boundaries are a foundational element of healthy relationships

The truth is, establishing and enforcing your boundaries is an act of kindness. It prevents you from having the feelings of resentment or annoyance toward people important to you. It also allows you to respect your own needs which in turn create a healthier you.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Amanda Goslin, MA, TLMFT

Boundaries are a popular subject. There are entire books and podcasts dedicated to the topic, and for good reason. Boundaries are essential to our relationships and our overall well-being.  Alas, people continue to have difficulty setting boundaries. Why is it so difficult to set them? This can be due to multiple reasons. Reasons may include abuse or trauma, being taught to always be kind, poor modeling of boundaries by our parents, fear of reactions or being mean, fear of conflict, or wanting to not let others down. Truth is, we are only hurting ourselves by not having healthy boundaries.

Do you have poor boundaries?

It is not uncommon to have poor boundaries and not even know it. Here are 10 signs that you have poor boundaries in place. If you find yourself…

  • Having little time for yourself, and feeling guilty when doing so
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Avoiding people who may ask for something
  • Feeling underappreciated and taken for granted
  • Being a “people pleaser” and not wanting to let others down
  • Saying “yes” to requests from people asking for help but often feeling resentful after
  • Feeling exhausted and drained
  • Over or under sharing personal information
  • Experiencing a lot of drama or getting involved with others’ problems
  • in repeated one-sided relationships

How to Create Boundaries

To achieve harmony in our lives, we need healthy boundaries. Areas we commonly need boundaries may include with our family, at work, romantic relationships, friendships, and with technology. Setting boundaries can be difficult, and you may not even know where to begin. Here are some steps to start creating boundaries:

  1. Identify. Pinpoint the areas you need boundaries. Pay attention to your relationships with others and how you feel about the relationship. It may be useful to write them down to solidify and remember them.
  2. Communicate. Be clear and focus on stating your need or request. Use I-statements and clearly state what you need. Don’t just focus on what you don’t like, but also state what you want or need. Try this: “I feel ___ when you___. What I want/need is ___.
  3. Uphold. It is important to allow people to adjust to your boundaries, especially if these are in response to behaviors you have previously tolerated. Consistently honor your boundaries and remain consistent in expecting others to honor them.

Boundary Examples:

Work: “I will not check work emails while on vacation”, “I am unable to take on the project”, or “Thank you for inviting me for dinner this weekend, but I cannot make it.”

Family: “I feel uncomfortable when you ask me about having kids. Please stop bringing this up.”, “I do not want to talk about my dating life.”, “No”.

Friendships: “I cannot meet you for lunch”, “I am not available right now, I can talk to you later”, “I care about you, and I want to be here for you, however I cannot help with this issue.”

Partner: “I really need you to listen to me. I do not need feedback or advice in this moment”, “I am feeling overwhelmed by this topic. I will revisit this when I am calmer”, “I need support with tasks around the house, I would like you to__”.

Technology/social media: “I will turn off alerts on my phone”, “I will unfollow people who post triggering things for me”, “I will spend no more than X amount of time on my phone per day”.

Yourself: “I will not answer my phone while I am with others or when I am busy”, “I will not call my ex when I am feeling lonely”, “I will ask for help when I need it.”

Remember, for boundaries to do what they are intended to do, we must clearly define, communicate, and enforce them.

Violations and the Aftermath

Unfortunately, you may find people who do not like or honor the boundaries you set. If the relationship is healthy, setting these limits will not disrupt it. If your boundaries are continuously violated or you receive pushback, defensiveness, or the silent treatment, remember that you communicating your needs did not cause this rupture. Usually when someone responds negatively, it brings to the surface a relationship that may have not been healthy in the first place.

Give this person time to process and accept the boundary you have put in place. This is also a great opportunity to be open to discussion about how they are feeling. Engage the person in conversation and ask them how they are feeling. This can be difficult to work through, but it can also be a great opportunity to build a stronger relationship. If you find your boundaries are continually violated, you may decide it is better to cut people out of your life. While this is difficult, ending a relationship is an act of self-care, bravery, and growth.

Boundaries Can Change

Boundaries can change over time. It is normal for our needs to change as we change. It is okay that you set a boundary at one time, but now have new expectations. When this happens, use the same strategies to communicate the boundaries and allow others to adjust to them. Creating and setting boundaries may feel difficult at first. You may find yourself feeling mean or unforgiving.

The truth is, establishing and enforcing your boundaries is an act of kindness. It prevents you from having the feelings of resentment or annoyance toward people important to you. It also allows you to respect your own needs which in turn create a healthier you.  With time, this will become easier. You will quickly discover the benefit of having boundaries in your life. While creating and setting your own boundaries, it is important to also respect boundaries of others in your life. The benefits of establishing and holding boundaries will support healthy and stronger relationships, less burnout, less stress, and more time to enjoy life.

Amanda Goslin, MA, TLMFT
Amanda Goslin, MA, TLMFT
Amanda works with a variety of individuals, couples, and families using a solution focused approach. Her work includes a specialized focus on intimacy and sex related issues, body image, and LGBTQ affirming care. She works from a solution focused and strength-based approach to focus on positive and lasting change.
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Amanda Goslin, MA, TLMFT
Amanda Goslin, MA, TLMFT
Amanda works with a variety of individuals, couples, and families using a solution focused approach. Her work includes a specialized focus on intimacy and sex related issues, body image, and LGBTQ affirming care. She works from a solution focused and strength-based approach to focus on positive and lasting change.
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