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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Letterman

Thoughts From This Therapist: Boundaries

What is a boundary? How do we establish boundaries? What happens when people push our boundaries? I will answer all these questions this week as we look again at boundaries, this time from a therapist’s perspective.

Before we start, I would like you to take a quick minute and think about your definition of boundaries. What do they mean to you? How have you set boundaries with others? What do you do if someone pushes your boundaries? After you have your answers, read on, take in the information and please share your strategies with us!

In order to really talk about boundaries we need to understand what a boundary is, so here are some definitions. Merriam-Webster defines a boundary as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent”. The Resilience Centre says that “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.” In my own words, a boundary is an expectation that we tell others, in hopes that they will not cross that limit.

As you can see there are lots of different terms that are used to describe boundaries. You can use whichever works best for you. Now that we have talked about defining boundaries we can explore how to know what our boundaries are.

The easiest way I have heard of individuals discovering their own boundaries is based upon their feelings. If someone steps too close to you or says something that makes you feel a certain way, they most likely crossed a boundary. Therefore I find it is best to pay attention to your feelings in order to determine what your boundaries are.

A personal example is that I do not like being touched by anyone, including those very close to me. So in close relationships, I have to let others know not to touch me without talking to me first. Granted, everyone should be seeking consent before touching any one else, but for some people giving consent once is enough, and for others it needs to be given every time. For me this even includes my spouse. I have to know that the touch, even a pat on the back, is coming, or I do not feel comfortable.

Some other boundaries can include not talking about certain topics, not calling or texting past a certain time, not posting pictures of someone on social media, not driving too fast, or not using certain language. There is no limit to the boundaries one can set. Once you know what your boundaries are, though, you then have to share them with others.

How you share your boundaries is completely up to you. The simplest way is to be direct and state your boundary up front. If you are able to openly and clearly state your boundaries early on it will help you to prevent others from indirectly pushing your boundaries. Being as clear as possible will help the other person understand your boundaries.

Sometimes we do not realize we have a boundary until it has been crossed. At that time, we have the chance to state what our boundary is so that it doesn't happen again. If individuals in your life do keep pushing your boundaries, though, you get to decide what to do about that.

There are a few different ways to handle when others push your boundaries. The first is typically that you state your boundaries again and ask them to repeat back what you said to them in order to ensure they understand. Then you hope they don’t push the boundary again.

However, some people will keep pushing even after being reminded. If this happens, you have to decide what to do. You can either allow them to continue pushing the boundaries and just not respond. Or you can choose to stop talking to them or limit your time with them so that they do not have as much opportunity to cross your boundaries.

Do you have questions about boundaries? Other ideas to share? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).

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