As therapists, we often talk to clients about the difficulty and the importance of “setting boundaries.” Being able to say no to people when we need to IS important; to speak clearly and openly about what works for us and what doesn't is an essential part of taking care of ourselves. There's no arguing that!
However – I have observed for some of us that “setting boundaries” can become a “therapeutically correct” way to control or threaten others into doing it our way.
What's the difference?
Chances are, if we are delivering a diatribe about how we “won't put up with” or “will not tolerate” something, we are doing more than “setting boundaries.”
Chances are, if we are “setting them straight about … ” or “not letting them get away with” something, we are more likely attempting to intimidate or bully the other person, because we feel threatened. None of these examples are what “setting boundaries” is all about.
So what does it mean to have “healthy boundaries?”
Boundaries is a word that is used in therapeutic circles to define our personal space. It requires that we know what is and what is not included in such space. To set a boundary means that we are clear, in our own minds first, about what is important, even essential to us, and then we are able to communicate that to the people we share space with.
The truth is that when we have healthy boundaries in place, we rarely need to verbally express them at all! We exude them naturally! Healthy boundaries come across quite well, and appropriately, in the confident & respectful way we stand, move and share with others.
Chances are if we find ourselves talking a lot about “having,” “needing,” or “setting boundaries,” we probably don't have healthy ones at all.
Healthy boundaries are a two way street. We know what we want and need and recognize and respect the wants and needs of others. Healthy boundaries involve clear communication, respect for ourselves and others and a strong sense of permission to ask for what we want and need and the ability to hear others do the same with us. They are transmitted from the inside out and originate from a healthy sense of self.