Setting Boundaries

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about boundaries, especially as people set their intentions for the New Year.

As a refresher, here are some healthy boundary reminders:

  • It is not your job to fix others.
  • It is okay if others get angry.
  • It is okay to say no.
  • It is not your job to take responsibility for others.
  • You do not have to anticipate the needs of others.
  • It is your job to make you happy.
  • No one has to agree with you.
  • You have a right to your own feelings.
  • You are enough, and don’t have to convince people that you are.

It took me a long time to learn that fourth one–not being responsible for others. As a social worker and family therapist, I think it’s common for those of us in the helping profession to feel like we have to do all the things for all the people. As it turns out, that’s not all that healthy, either for the person helping, or for the person being helped! (There’s a lovely poem by Shel Silverstein called “Helping.” It’s one of my favorites, and has adorned the wall in several of my offices over the years.)

do all the things

Here’s some of what boundaries are NOT:

  • Shutting everyone out, and not sharing any information or asking for help.
  • Not caring about the people you love.
  • Ignoring/avoiding your own feelings or concerns in order to “keep the peace.”
  • Rules by which you dictate the behavior of others.
  • A guarantee that everything will be perfect.

I like to use the analogy of a house. Rigid boundaries are a big stone wall miles away from the house. No one gets in, but nothing gets out, either. If there’s an emergency and you need help, no one can assist you without knocking down the wall. In contrast, diffuse boundaries are no barriers between your house and the outside world. Anything and anyone can get in or out. While that may seem fine if you need help, you also have to put up with people peering in your windows, and even potentially walking right into your house!

The ideal would be a fence with a gate. You get to choose what you let in and out. You can see what’s over the horizon, and prepare, if necessary. (One of the downsides to the big stone wall is that you can’t see what’s over the horizon until it’s right on top of you. So if there’s a tornado coming, you won’t be able to see and prepare for it until it has torn down your wall and is coming toward your house.)

If you feel like you need to work on healthy boundaries in your relationships, contact True North Counseling!

Jennifer Kendrick

AAMFT Approved Supervisor
Kentucky Board Approved MFT Supervisor

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker in KY
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in IN
cell: 502.203.9197