Setting Boundaries

July 19, 2015

Setting Boundaries

by Carolyn Bulmash, LCSW

Often times we feel frustrated in our relationships.  Whether it’s family and friends or at work, we can find ourselves feeling taken advantage of.  For many of us, it’s difficult to say “no” without feeling guilty.   Having healthy boundaries for ourselves and with others can greatly improve any relationship and increase our own self esteem.

Before we can set limits with others, we need to know what our own limits are. Identifying our own spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional limits are the guides to setting boundaries.  When we are clear on what we can tolerate, what we are willing to tolerate, and what feels too overwhelming for us we begin to know the parameters of boundary setting.

Knowledge of our limits will help us identify the key feelings we have when our boundaries are being exceeded. These feelings often come in the form of discomfort and resentment.  Many of us feel resentment when we feel unappreciated or taken advantage of.   We many feel guilty if we don’t strive to be the best daughter-in-law or employee, but when we push ourselves too far outside of our comfort zone we tend to get angry or shut down.  Having others impose their expectations and values on us contribute to feeling resentful.

When we address boundary concerns with people in our lives it is important to be direct.  Being clear on what we are willing to do (for example, drive an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment) and what we are not willing to do (ie, stay overnight at an elderly parents home) is a critical piece of communication.  What one person may be willing to offer as “help,” may be very different to another’s interpretation.   Keep in mind people aren’t mind readers. Though we may wish others are observant to our body language or even share our same values, we have to remain aware we all interpret the world around us differently.  Being assertive about what you can and are willing to tolerate will help set clear expectations with others.

It is important we remember it is okay to set boundaries.  While we may feel guilty for saying “no” at times, maintaining our own mental health is imperative in all our interpersonal relationships.

Checking in with yourself on how you are feeling is an important part of everyday health, including boundary and limit setting.  Going back to review your feelings and revising boundaries if necessary is part of the process.   Be sure to consider the role you play in each unique situation.  Are you an oldest child who has always been in a care-taking role? Are you the senior most employee on your team at work?  Sometimes these roles can cause stumbling blocks in our boundary setting.  Being aware of how you feel in the present can help avoid boundary troubles you’ve experienced in the past.

Boundary setting is a skill and just like any skill it develops over time. It’s ok to start with addressing smaller issues before tackling the larger ones.  Learning how to read our emotions as well as others can take time.

If you are struggling with boundaries in your life or wish to further develop this critical life skill, please contact Associates in Psychotherapy at (866) 220-8371.  Flexible office hours are available in both our Evanston and Deerfield locations.