Taking Control: The Importance of Boundaries

Reviewed Apr 18, 2016

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Summary

  • Boundary setting improves relationships.
  • Start by understanding your own needs.
  • Don’t give up—this is a learned skill.

Have you ever felt uncertain about whether you needed to draw a line with someone? Or felt unsure about how to do it?

For some, speaking up comes easily; for others it takes practice. The ability to confidently draw the line around our needs is called setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is important for healthy relationships.

What is a boundary?

“A boundary is a personal line drawn defining who we are, and what we will or will not do. It defines what we are responsible for,” explains Laura Bokar, a marriage and family therapist and Founder of Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness.

Imagine a yard with a fence around it. The fence is the boundary, and what is within the fence belongs to you. Inside the fence are your emotions, reactions, and behaviors; they are yours and you are responsible for them. A boundary is about protecting your own needs and is not intended to change other people.

Setting your own boundaries

If you are not used to purposefully setting boundaries, it may be helpful to spend time thinking about what is most important to you. When do you feel disrespected? When do you feel taken advantage of? How much space do you need? When do you want to be alone? Understanding yourself and your own needs makes it easier to communicate that to someone else. Think about these and plan your desired outcome.

Most things are learned through practice, and boundary setting is no different. Creating boundaries may feel uncomfortable at first, and friends and family may react unfavorably if they are not used to you standing your ground. That’s OK. Start with simple things, and it will get easier. 

An example would be if a family member wants you to attend a family function and you do not want to go. “Start by stating the truth,” says Bokar. “If you want to go, say yes. If you do not want to go, say no.”

That may seem simple, but we don’t always respond that way and we may then feel resentment. Do not give up. State what you want or don’t want, and be consistent. Boundaries are an important tool in order to protect your time, your space and your feelings.

Remember this:

  • Be clear in communicating what your expectations are, or what is offensive or unacceptable to you.
  • Be honest and respectful in your tone.
  • Be specific in order to minimize confusion.
  • Do not blame or criticize others. Remember, boundaries are for you, not for changing others.
  • Use “I” statements.
    • “I need …”
    • “I am uncomfortable when … “
    • “I will …”
    • “I won’t …”
    • “It is not acceptable when…”

Respecting other people’s boundaries

It is important to respect the boundaries that other people set too. For example, if a family member sets a boundary for how willing she is to be involved with something and it doesn’t meet what you think her boundary should be, remember to think about this person’s decision and accept the boundary that she has set.

If your boundaries are crossed

Think again about the fence analogy. A boundary would be crossed when someone comes crashing through your fence and tramples all over your yard. Allowing that would be indicating that you didn’t really mean anything by creating the boundary in the first place.

“Keep your boundaries strong and clear,” reminds Bokar. “Do not become fearful of hurting feelings, or fearful of the other person’s anger, or fearful of being abandoned.” That may mean reminding others of your boundaries, creating firmer boundaries, or enforcing consequences. If possible, state those consequences up front when you create the boundary, and then follow through. This is not easy, but it is very important. If necessary, review again what your goals and desired outcomes are. Consider your purpose, what you are comfortable with, and keep your boundaries strong.

On the other hand, communicate your appreciation when someone does respect your boundary. That reinforces the boundary.

You may be surprised to realize that with practice, boundary setting will become an extension of your own self-respect and will come naturally.

By Rachel Latham
Source: Laura Bokar, LMFT, LCPC, ACS, Fox Valley Institute, Naperville, IL; American Psychological Association

Summary

  • Boundary setting improves relationships.
  • Start by understanding your own needs.
  • Don’t give up—this is a learned skill.

Have you ever felt uncertain about whether you needed to draw a line with someone? Or felt unsure about how to do it?

For some, speaking up comes easily; for others it takes practice. The ability to confidently draw the line around our needs is called setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is important for healthy relationships.

What is a boundary?

“A boundary is a personal line drawn defining who we are, and what we will or will not do. It defines what we are responsible for,” explains Laura Bokar, a marriage and family therapist and Founder of Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness.

Imagine a yard with a fence around it. The fence is the boundary, and what is within the fence belongs to you. Inside the fence are your emotions, reactions, and behaviors; they are yours and you are responsible for them. A boundary is about protecting your own needs and is not intended to change other people.

Setting your own boundaries

If you are not used to purposefully setting boundaries, it may be helpful to spend time thinking about what is most important to you. When do you feel disrespected? When do you feel taken advantage of? How much space do you need? When do you want to be alone? Understanding yourself and your own needs makes it easier to communicate that to someone else. Think about these and plan your desired outcome.

Most things are learned through practice, and boundary setting is no different. Creating boundaries may feel uncomfortable at first, and friends and family may react unfavorably if they are not used to you standing your ground. That’s OK. Start with simple things, and it will get easier. 

An example would be if a family member wants you to attend a family function and you do not want to go. “Start by stating the truth,” says Bokar. “If you want to go, say yes. If you do not want to go, say no.”

That may seem simple, but we don’t always respond that way and we may then feel resentment. Do not give up. State what you want or don’t want, and be consistent. Boundaries are an important tool in order to protect your time, your space and your feelings.

Remember this:

  • Be clear in communicating what your expectations are, or what is offensive or unacceptable to you.
  • Be honest and respectful in your tone.
  • Be specific in order to minimize confusion.
  • Do not blame or criticize others. Remember, boundaries are for you, not for changing others.
  • Use “I” statements.
    • “I need …”
    • “I am uncomfortable when … “
    • “I will …”
    • “I won’t …”
    • “It is not acceptable when…”

Respecting other people’s boundaries

It is important to respect the boundaries that other people set too. For example, if a family member sets a boundary for how willing she is to be involved with something and it doesn’t meet what you think her boundary should be, remember to think about this person’s decision and accept the boundary that she has set.

If your boundaries are crossed

Think again about the fence analogy. A boundary would be crossed when someone comes crashing through your fence and tramples all over your yard. Allowing that would be indicating that you didn’t really mean anything by creating the boundary in the first place.

“Keep your boundaries strong and clear,” reminds Bokar. “Do not become fearful of hurting feelings, or fearful of the other person’s anger, or fearful of being abandoned.” That may mean reminding others of your boundaries, creating firmer boundaries, or enforcing consequences. If possible, state those consequences up front when you create the boundary, and then follow through. This is not easy, but it is very important. If necessary, review again what your goals and desired outcomes are. Consider your purpose, what you are comfortable with, and keep your boundaries strong.

On the other hand, communicate your appreciation when someone does respect your boundary. That reinforces the boundary.

You may be surprised to realize that with practice, boundary setting will become an extension of your own self-respect and will come naturally.

By Rachel Latham
Source: Laura Bokar, LMFT, LCPC, ACS, Fox Valley Institute, Naperville, IL; American Psychological Association

Summary

  • Boundary setting improves relationships.
  • Start by understanding your own needs.
  • Don’t give up—this is a learned skill.

Have you ever felt uncertain about whether you needed to draw a line with someone? Or felt unsure about how to do it?

For some, speaking up comes easily; for others it takes practice. The ability to confidently draw the line around our needs is called setting boundaries. Setting boundaries is important for healthy relationships.

What is a boundary?

“A boundary is a personal line drawn defining who we are, and what we will or will not do. It defines what we are responsible for,” explains Laura Bokar, a marriage and family therapist and Founder of Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness.

Imagine a yard with a fence around it. The fence is the boundary, and what is within the fence belongs to you. Inside the fence are your emotions, reactions, and behaviors; they are yours and you are responsible for them. A boundary is about protecting your own needs and is not intended to change other people.

Setting your own boundaries

If you are not used to purposefully setting boundaries, it may be helpful to spend time thinking about what is most important to you. When do you feel disrespected? When do you feel taken advantage of? How much space do you need? When do you want to be alone? Understanding yourself and your own needs makes it easier to communicate that to someone else. Think about these and plan your desired outcome.

Most things are learned through practice, and boundary setting is no different. Creating boundaries may feel uncomfortable at first, and friends and family may react unfavorably if they are not used to you standing your ground. That’s OK. Start with simple things, and it will get easier. 

An example would be if a family member wants you to attend a family function and you do not want to go. “Start by stating the truth,” says Bokar. “If you want to go, say yes. If you do not want to go, say no.”

That may seem simple, but we don’t always respond that way and we may then feel resentment. Do not give up. State what you want or don’t want, and be consistent. Boundaries are an important tool in order to protect your time, your space and your feelings.

Remember this:

  • Be clear in communicating what your expectations are, or what is offensive or unacceptable to you.
  • Be honest and respectful in your tone.
  • Be specific in order to minimize confusion.
  • Do not blame or criticize others. Remember, boundaries are for you, not for changing others.
  • Use “I” statements.
    • “I need …”
    • “I am uncomfortable when … “
    • “I will …”
    • “I won’t …”
    • “It is not acceptable when…”

Respecting other people’s boundaries

It is important to respect the boundaries that other people set too. For example, if a family member sets a boundary for how willing she is to be involved with something and it doesn’t meet what you think her boundary should be, remember to think about this person’s decision and accept the boundary that she has set.

If your boundaries are crossed

Think again about the fence analogy. A boundary would be crossed when someone comes crashing through your fence and tramples all over your yard. Allowing that would be indicating that you didn’t really mean anything by creating the boundary in the first place.

“Keep your boundaries strong and clear,” reminds Bokar. “Do not become fearful of hurting feelings, or fearful of the other person’s anger, or fearful of being abandoned.” That may mean reminding others of your boundaries, creating firmer boundaries, or enforcing consequences. If possible, state those consequences up front when you create the boundary, and then follow through. This is not easy, but it is very important. If necessary, review again what your goals and desired outcomes are. Consider your purpose, what you are comfortable with, and keep your boundaries strong.

On the other hand, communicate your appreciation when someone does respect your boundary. That reinforces the boundary.

You may be surprised to realize that with practice, boundary setting will become an extension of your own self-respect and will come naturally.

By Rachel Latham
Source: Laura Bokar, LMFT, LCPC, ACS, Fox Valley Institute, Naperville, IL; American Psychological Association

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