What do you notice in your body when you read the word boundaries? Do you notice some tension? Ease? Does your jaw clench? Is there a pit in your stomach? Do you feel a sense of comfort, or grounded-ness? Each of us has a different relationship to the concept of boundary-setting, usually resulting from our family of origin. Some of us were modeled healthy boundary-setting by our parents and/or caregivers, and some of us…not so much. If you fall into the camp of having had a more boundary-less upbringing, there’s often an intergenerational component to that. If our caregivers did not learn boundaries from their caregivers, teaching boundaries to the next generation usually does not come easy. Which (if you’re anything like me) may be why you’ve found yourself reading this blog, and thus, interested in therapy—you’re hoping to heal these intergenerational wounds that prevent the implementation of healthy boundaries.
So, what is a healthy boundary? Although I believe the answer to this question varies based on the individual, healthy boundaries are almost always “…the invisible line between you and everything that isn’t you. It’s like having an invisible filtration system that helps you sort through what’s okay and what’s not okay in relationships.” (Pharaon 238). Vienna Pharaon, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of The Origins of You, goes on to write, “[Healthy boundaries] help you get clear on the rules, expectations, and conditions of a relationship so that you can feel both close and connected to the other person but also safe, protected, and respected” (238).
I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the relationships in your life—relationships with family members, friends, partners, colleagues, and more. Do you feel safe, protected, and respected in these relationships? Do you feel that these people in your life honor your opinions about what’s okay and what’s not okay? If so, wonderful! If not, it may be time to get curious about certain relationships and how they are operating. Is your connection with this particular person worth your time and energy? It’s possible that the answer to this question is no, in which case removing yourself from the dynamic may be the healthiest option for you (seek support from your therapist if you take that route!). If you decide that your connection with this person is valuable to you, have an honest and direct conversation about what’s working and what’s not working in the relationship, and then be confident in your decision-making. The folks in your life who are willing to hear you fully and affirm your need for boundaries are the folks who can grow with you, love you, and even celebrate your dedication to self-preservation. These are the relationships worth nurturing. And remember, in a safe relationship, boundaries are meant to help maintain the connection, not dissolve it. So, if you learned early on that boundaries are bad, begin the work of unlearning that. And let us know how we can support you.