The Art of Setting Boundaries

Written by Lauren Abrams, Contributing Writer

Boundaries are important for an array of reasons–both for keeping negative experiences and negative projections out and keeping emotional energy in

Wellness culture loves the topic of compassion and empathy. Kindness, compassion, and empathy are incredibly valuable. Where we fall short in this discussion is how to fuel ourselves with energy to continuously have compassion. And sometimes, we think compassion, empathy, and kindness are things that have to happen at our own expense (Lee). But being selfless shouldn’t mean everyone has access to us, all day, every day. Everyone’s social meter is finite, as is patience, time, and energy. 

Having empathy is a bit more extreme than having compassion, in that you are identifying with someone’s emotional output. Empathizing with someone can require a more intense emotional experience that requires an emotional response out of you (Lee). Similarly, performing tasks you don’t have time for, having conversations that you don’t have the bandwidth for, or doing favors for people we aren’t obligated to, requires something out of you. When we don’t have a clear boundary in mind, those moments when someone asks something of us feel very vulnerable, and then we compromise by saying yes (Brown). 

In Glennon Doyle’s new podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, Doyle devotes a whole episode to boundaries. She explains that personally, she found herself constantly defending herself to people and feeling the need to refute people’s opinions of her (family, friends, etc.). She explains that in addition to having energy tapped out by the people around us, a lack of boundaries also leads to defensiveness. Without boundaries, other people can critique our personal decisions, and they hit closer to home. Thus, sometimes we feel the need to over-explain, over justify our choices, and become defensive to other people’s opinions. But defensiveness only happens when you think someone can take something from you–self-worth, approval, your okay-ness with your own decisions. Boundaries are the process by which we don’t allow people to ruin things for us, or take things from us that we need to keep for ourselves (Doyle). We all deserve the space to exist without the meaning of our actions being contingent on some else’s reaction. 

Setting boundaries is hard, and it’s a process that has to be learned. Psychologist Brene Brown suggests writing down mental notes when you find yourself feeling defensive, resentful, or overwhelmed. That helps us pinpoint when and where specifically we need boundaries as opposed to just snapping once we reach our limit. She also recommends finding a mantra or something physical (a ring, pendant, keychain, etc) to repeat or hold onto. This can serve as a direct reminder that boundaries are a priority, and we’re holding ourselves accountable for it. 

There are some small boundaries to begin with: saying no to tasks you don’t have time for, saying thank you without apologizing, rehearsing, asking for space, sharing personal information more gradually. And most importantly, honoring your desires (Camins).

 

References 

Brown, Brene. “Brené Brown: 3 Ways to Set Boundaries.” Oprah.com, Oprah.com, 20 Aug. 2013, http://www.oprah.com/spirit/how-to-set-boundaries-brene-browns-advice. Doyle, Glennon. “We Can Do Hard Things.” Spotify, Cadence 13, May 18th. https://open.spotify.com/episode/02nZPMnqNBhMU0QNiaghSM?si=KthCse6VSrmV33K yLwh49g&dl_branch=1 

Camins, Stephanie. “Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships.” Road to Growth Counseling, Road to Growth Counseling, 5 July 2021, roadtogrowthcounseling.com/importance-boundaries-relationships/. 

Lee, Mary Kate. “This World Is Exhausting, Don’t Let It Exhaust You: Setting Emotional Boundaries to Prevent Fatigue .” Lerner Center for Health Promotion, Syracuse University , 9 June 2020, lernercenter.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Lee-1.pdf.

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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