Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Boundaries*
by Catie Martin
*But Were Afraid to Ask
Whether you’ve heard the term or not, having good boundaries is an important part of having good relationships. To be clear, boundaries aren’t just about sex; they’re not even only about romantic relationships.
What are Boundaries?
Try something with me. Think of yourself as a house.
All of the things that make up your house – your furniture, decorations, and stuff – are the things that make up you. Now, if your house is anything like mine, there are some parts that you don’t show off to everyone. Maybe it’s because some rooms are messier than others and you’re embarrassed by them, or maybe it’s because some of your stuff is special to you, and you want to protect those things. Whatever the case, your house has walls, rooms, doors, and windows; it has boundaries. It might even have a fence around the outside of it. Your house has those things so you can control who comes in and out of it. You can keep someone from walking past the front gate, invite them through the front door, or even ask them to move in.
In other words, boundaries are the practical and personal limits that protect, define, and expand who you are in your relationships with other people.
What exactly does that mean? Here’s one example of a healthy boundary: You just found out that you failed a test you took and you don’t know what to do. Because you have healthy boundaries, you don’t just blurt it out to the first person who talks to you. Instead, you wait until you can talk to your best friend.
Even though that may seem like an obvious thing to do, sometimes keeping your boundaries isn’t so obvious. Here’s an example of that: You and some friends decided to go to the mall to hang out, and while you’re walking around a few of you decide to get some pretzels.
One of your friends pulls you aside and asks for some money, promising to pay you back. They’re your friend, and it’s just a couple of dollars, so you spot them. And then it happens again at school or work, and then again and again and they never seem to have the money on their person to pay you back. No matter what their reason – and it may be good – you’re now in the awkward position of having to ask them for your money back, and it seems like no matter how much they promise that they’ll have it next time, they never do.
How do I know my boundaries?
Unfortunately, defining our personal boundaries is harder than finding the walls of a house. In order to know our boundaries, we need to sit down and think about them. Boundaries are meant to determine what behaviors, either others’ or your own, are ok with you. If you don’t know what your boundaries are before you get into a situation where someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, or they’re asking you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, it can be hard to think straight.
Think about what you’re ok with from a stranger, an acquaintance, a close friend, a family member, and a significant other. When you think about these things, don’t add other details in (like how good looking a stranger might be), try to think in general. It’s best to know what your general boundary would be for a type of relationship.
Things to keep in mind
If you haven’t thought about your own boundaries yet, try thinking about these things:
- Does this boundary help me to feel safe?
- Does this boundary help me to get to know other people?
- Does this boundary reflect my personality?
- Am I creating this boundary for a specific person?
- If so, has this person earned a special boundary?
- Is this boundary fair to me?
- Is this boundary fair to the people it affects (friends, acquaintances, family, or significant others)?
More on your mind?
Defining your boundaries is hard. If you feel that you need to have better boundaries for yourself, but you’re overwhelmed: you’re not alone. Call 734-484-3600 or come to the Corner Health Center to make an appointment with me or one of our other licensed counselors. Also, check out C.O.P.E., the Corner’s support group for young people 15-21 that meets Tuesdays 3:30-4:30.
About Catie Martin
Catie Martin, LMSW is the Corner Health Center's in-house improv master and therapist extraordinaire. Little known fact: therapists with a sense of humor are better than therapists without a sense of humor.C.O.P.E., Counseling, Dating & Relationships, Mental Health and tagged boundaries, boundary, corner health center, family, friends, relationships, safe, the corner. Bookmark the permalink.