Boundaries. I can’t talk enough about them. Neither can the TikTok-verse. You can hardly have your daily scroll without at least one #creator mentioning boundary setting, lack of boundaries, permeable vs impermeable boundaries, or giving a personal example of a boundary violation.
Why? It’s not that we don’t know what a proper boundary looks like or how to set one. It’s that we simply lack the skills. Many of us are not good at setting boundaries (or simply don’t set them) because we have been brought up to believe that it is rude to set boundaries with friends and family.
That’s simply not true. Setting boundaries is absolutely essential to mental wellness because they:
- Help us to preserve our emotional energy.
- Allow us to choose how and when to share information.
- Let us define our levels of vulnerability.
- Are essential to keeping clear about what is our responsibility and what responsibility belongs to others.
- Are critical for us to determine what emotions are ours and what emotions belong to others.
- Promote interdependence instead of co-dependence.
Even with all the positive implications of setting boundaries, we still find ourselves in a quandary when faced with setting or maintaining our own boundaries.
Let’s come back to guilt for a moment. We feel guilt because we buy into our family culture (and sometimes an even larger cultural belief) that by setting a boundary, we are violating a set of rules. For example, if you haven’t set boundaries with your family members before and if the rule in your family is that everyone has access to all of your time, things, and/or information, it is very likely (and completely normal that) you will feel guilty when you start setting boundaries, particularly the first few times.
In my private practice, I often see clients who have boundary setting work to do around privacy and family members. Telling a family member that something is not their business is likely to cause guilt. Even if you haven’t expressed the boundary out loud to that particular family member, you may still find yourself secretly fuming when the boundary is violated.
Here’s a great example from a real life client (names are changed to protect identities). Jane’s mother often asks questions about Jane’s intimate life making Jane uncomfortable. When Jane felt pressured to answer, her mother frequently criticised and shamed her for her responses. Jane decided to tell her mother that her intimate life was not her mother’s business. The next time her mother asked her about her intimate partners, Jane replied “My intimate life is not something I wish to share. It is my business only.” Her mother replied “We don’t have a real relationship anymore because you don’t share personal things with me.” Predictably, Jane felt guilty for “ruining” their relationship.
But that isn’t where Jane’s story ends. Before Jane let the boundary go, I requested she reflect on how she felt when she did share this information with her mother. She replied that the guilt was much easier to deal with than her mother’s criticism and attempts to control her intimate life.
Did you know I teach a regular class on boundary setting (and throughout the pandemic have been teaching it on Zoom)? I’m putting together my class schedule for 2022 and this one is incredibly popular.
Need immediate help with boundaries? Send me an email