Boundaries - the invisible lines that keep us safe

4 Mar 2017 |  for clients | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory

Your boundaries are too important to your well-being to leave it to others to set them.

Boundaries are the limits you set on what you will allow and on how you relate to others.

They are “invisible lines” that separate the participants in a relationship and allow them to take responsibility for their lives, respect others, and to meet their obligations.

Your boundaries are how you keep yourself physically and emotionally safe, so it's very important to take responsibility for setting your own boundaries, and to feel entitled to do so.

You indicate your boundaries in a variety of ways:

  • With your body language – looking uneasy when someone is standing too close to you for comfort.
  • By your words – saying “no” when your boss asks you to work in your personal time.
  • By your actions – closing the door when you want to get changed.

In formal relationships such as counselling relationships, boundaries are often deliberately made explicit, or even stipulated by contract. For example, when you are in counselling:

  • Time boundaries: you would expect the session to start and end at specific times.
  • Space boundaries: there may be a set space in which counselling takes place, that gives you privacy.
  • Financial: there is usually a prearranged fee (or an agreement to work for free).
  • Confidentiality: what’s disclosed in counselling is usually treated as confidential.
  • Ethical: your counsellor is expected to work to an ethical code or framework, in ways that respect your rights and selfhood.

In healthy relationships boundaries tend to be well-defined, appropriate and well-managed, not “spongy” or “elastic”. The participants recognise each other’s boundaries and respect them, and when someone’s “invisible line” is crossed they will defend their boundaries – for example by saying “no” to peer pressure to take drugs, by shutting the door on a salesman who tries to step inside, by politely exiting from a meeting that goes on past its agreed end-time, by respectfully saying “no” to someone who wants time you need for yourself.

Keeping good boundaries often means being able to say “no” and sometimes this can feel hard if you feel there is a risk of losing someone’s approval or friendship. But if you fail to actively maintain appropriate boundaries in your relationships, you may be modelling unhealthy behaviour to those you are closest to.

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