One of the most common topics that comes up in sessions with my clients (and with my own therapist) is boundaries. In theory, we all have boundaries, or limits, to how much we can tolerate from others. We all have a limit to the amount of disrespectful language we can tolerate before we get upset, or the amount of time and energy we can devote to someone else before we start to feel like that person is taking advantage of us. Boundaries, and the ignoring of boundaries, are a common human experience. In practice, though, the reality is that many of us struggle to communicate and maintain healthy boundaries.
Prentiss Hemphill stated that, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Boundaries are a form of self-love, which can be very difficult for so many people because the self-love part is often overshadowed by feelings of guilt and shame. American society supports a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” type of self-abuse in which we neglect our individual needs for the sake of earning a living, getting along with others, and fitting in with our peers. However, this mindset requires a complete lack of healthy boundaries, which can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and anger issues.
Difficulty with maintaining healthy boundaries is usually a strategy adopted during childhood to cope with uncomfortable or unsafe situations. For example, a child may learn to pretend that everything is okay because they feel unsafe when their parent yells, or a teenager might engage in delinquent behaviors after being bullied for being a “suck up.” Poor boundaries are learned, are adaptive, and can show up in a variety of ways, such as:
- A tendency to over-share personal information or unnecessary information,
- Difficulty saying ‘no,’ even when saying ‘yes’ causes a great burden on yourself,
- Over-explaining when you do say ‘no’ to requests,
- Getting yourself overly involved in others’ problems/conflicts,
- Making efforts to rescue or save others from their own problems,
- Being dependent on other’s opinions,
- Struggling to make decisions on your own,
- Verbalizing agreement, even when you disagree,
- Denying you have needs or not communicating your needs, or
- Tolerating and/or accepting disrespectful or abusive behavior.
If any of the behaviors listed above hit home for you, counseling might be a great way to learn about healthy boundaries and how to incorporate them into your life. Visit Evergreen Coaching & Counseling (cuevergreen.com) today to get linked with a counselor or coach who can help you become a boundary-setting boss.
Brittney Homann, MSW, MS Ed., LCSW, has over 15 years of experience working with children and their families in Central Illinois. She graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a BS in Special Education in 2004 and a MS in Education in 2013. Brittney completed the MSW program at UIUC in 2019, and she has extensive training and experience in treating childhood and family-based trauma, anxiety, depression, disruptive behaviors, and other mental health disorders. Brittney is LBGTQ+ affirming and welcomes children and adolescents with co-occurring Autistic or cognitive disorders, as well as parents/caregivers and young adults.