Boundaries = your greatest life hack

You heard me right. Your hands-down-tried-and-true-timeless life hack.

By Abigale Johnson

April 10, 2023

If I didn’t introduce the practice with a premiere blog post about boundaries, then what are we even doing?

Yes, our practice is named after one of the most important aspects of therapy and self-care - setting boundaries. Some would say I’m a nerd for boundaries. My clients and I have laughed together at their ability to predict when I’m about to call them out on their boundaries. They can be so simple and so complicated at the same time. They can be flexible and rigid. They can be honored and violated. But most importantly, they are individualized to each one of us - never right or wrong (if you haven’t heard me say it yet - throw out “right” and “wrong” from your vocabulary moving forward). More on that later.

Boundaries = #lifehack

Healthy boundaries can enhance your relationships with others. Seriously - they can help you crush life. In a simple statement, boundaries can teach others how to treat you (i.e. how you want to be treated). A secondary gain of setting boundaries is to be able to separate yourself from someone else's emotional reaction. Let’s break down the primary and secondary goals of boundaries.

How do YOU want to be treated?

When you set a boundary, you are telling someone to not cross it or they will not have access to you. Let’s look at an example:

Mothers - they get a bad wrap in therapy, huh?

You’re on the phone with your mom and she starts talking about your weight, your frequent seamless orders, your never-scheduled dermatologist appointment…you know what I’m talking about. 

A boundary to set here could be: 

“Mom - I don’t want to talk about my weight right now.” - Easy…..but she keeps going. 

“Mom - I’m going to go if you keep talking about my weight. I told you that I don’t want to talk about that right now.” …She either accepts this boundary and moves on to something else. All is well in the world. OR she violates this boundary after being told twice and you choose to end the phone call. You are restricting her access to you if she does not respect your boundary. This can be restated in other moments as reminders - “I would prefer you don’t make comments about my weight or eating habits. If you do, I will not continue the conversation.”  And I get it - we don't talk like this most of the time, but my clients would tell you that they have found ways to communicate this in their own style and it can be effective.

No, not all boundaries mean cutting the person out of your life. This is an overgeneralization of boundaries we hear all the time. Yes, you may restrict access in ways, but you do not need to cut all communication out. Of course, there are situations and/or people that we may remove from our lives, but that is typically done with thoughtful consideration, reminders of the boundaries, and consistent violation of them.

You are not responsible for the emotional reaction of someone else.

If you are constantly people-pleasing and worrying about other people’s reactions, you were probably told as a child -

“You’re making me angry.” “That makes grandma sad when you don’t give her a hug.”

We are taught from a very young age that our words/behaviors directly affect others and we must act accordingly… to not make Daddy angry or Grandma sad. But the jig is up, you are not responsible for the happiness of others.

People will have a reaction to you based on their own past experiences and core beliefs. This means you could literally do everything perfectly, say everything in the nicest way, think about the other person compassionately, and it’s still possible that person gets mad, angry, sad, etc. Repeat the same scenario with a totally different person and they may not be bothered at all. When we anticipate someone else's reaction, we take away their independence and choice in the relationship. We are saying we don’t trust them to be able to manage their own emotions or tolerate an authentic interaction. We are yearning for control and trying to avoid dealing with those pesky negative emotions people have. Part of practicing healthy boundaries is the acceptance of sadness, anger, disappointment, and other uncomfortable feelings.

So next time you express your want or need, allow the other person to have their reaction, whatever it is. If they are mad, they are allowed to be mad. If they are content, they are allowed to be content. You will learn to tolerate someone else having an emotional response and understand that you are not in control of it. This is a hard one, but oh so valuable.

Let's review some core features of healthy boundaries:

  1. Clear communication: Clear communication of one's needs, wants, and expectations are essential. This means expressing oneself assertively and honestly without being aggressive or passive.
  2. Self-respect: Healthy boundaries involve having respect for oneself and valuing one's own needs, feelings, and opinions. This means being able to say no when something is not in one's best interest or when it goes against one's values.
  3. Mutual respect: Having respect for others and their boundaries is equally important. This means recognizing and accepting the boundaries of others without trying to change or manipulate them.
  4. Flexibility: Some level of flexibility to accommodate the needs and wants of oneself and others is required. This means being willing to negotiate and compromise without sacrificing one's own well-being.
  5. Consistency: We must be consistent in how we communicate and enforce boundaries. This means following through on consequences when someone crosses a boundary, and not making exceptions for certain people or situations.
  6. Self-awareness: Healthy boundaries involve being aware of one's own feelings, needs, and limits. This means paying attention to one's own emotions and physical sensations to determine when a boundary has been crossed.
  7. Self-care: Practicing self-care to maintain physical and emotional well-being are a critical part of healthy boundaries. This means setting aside time for oneself to rest, relax, and engage in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Book recommendations if you want to read more about healthy boundaries:

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