A major struggle people who come to The Center often face is drawing appropriate boundaries. There are many reasons for this. Some people feel it is harmful to others to do so. People may have told us it is selfish. Some people have given up their own wishes and needs for so long, they no longer feel they know themselves and therefore may even be unaware of their own boundaries.
To address this, let’s take a peek into the lives of two people: Jane and Joseph.
Jane is a young mother of two toddlers. She does not work outside of the home, but her husband is out most of the day. Jane struggles because her mother, who comes over several times a week and calls at least two or three times a day, often corrects her parenting. When that happens, Jane feels overpowered and inept. After all, it’s her mother. She raised Jane and therefore “must be right”. When Jane has tried to say no, her mother looked sad, and generally says, “I’m just trying to help”, and doesn’t call or answer the phone for a few of days. This has left Jane feeling guilty, lonely, and frightened that she has lost her mother’s support. Eventually, Jane gives in to her mother, even though it leaves her feeling diminished and filled with resentment. Sometimes she has taken her feelings out on her husband by being critical.
Joseph is a manager at a local Internet Marketing firm. He is meticulous and careful and takes pride in his work. His team likes him and speaks highly of him. However, Joe’s boss is an exacting micromanager. Joe constantly stays late at work to please his boss. Even when he is on time or early with his work and can find no errors, his boss will “always have something negative to say”. Joseph’s wife has started to ask him his name when he comes home and sometimes, she was already in bed. Joseph wants to be a responsible man, but he feels trapped. He believes he cannot say anything because “his boss is in charge”.
These are common scenarios we see at The Center. People with these types of experiences not only learn about when and how to set boundaries, but they also join a community, a specialized group of others who struggle with similar issues (also known as a coterie), which provides the opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment. In that setting, it is possible to learn that boundaries are healthy, necessary, and can be done with kindness and non-judgment.
To start thinking about this, it can be helpful to categorize boundaries as emotional, mental, and physical. Here are the definitions and examples.
Physical Boundaries: These relate to your physical body, geographical location, and property. A few examples include saying no to physical touch, asking people to step back, not allowing someone in your home or not going into theirs, and meeting out in public.
Mental Boundaries: These separate our thoughts and will from others and protect our choices and thought processes. Therefore, asking others to request permission before sharing a thought, saying no to adopting a different thought process or choice made by another person would be an example of this type of boundary.
Emotional Boundaries: These are intended to make our feelings known and keep them from being hurt or devalued. Asking others to say or ask in a particular way, time, or tone can be emotional boundaries.
After some time at The Center, we may see a whole different story with Jane and Joseph.
After re-establishing her routine at home, Jane sat down with her mom and explained why it hurt when her mother corrected her (something she had not done before). This helped her mother see her own behavior in a different light. Jane specifically requested her mother ask permission before sharing parenting tips and limit her calls to once per day, understanding that Jane may not call back immediately. Initially, Jane’s mother expressed understanding and willingness. Once Jane tried out the new behaviors, there was an adjustment period. Her mother pushed back some. However, Jane had learned ways to cope with the unrealistic guilt messages, as well. Now, she has the free time in her day and the confidence she needs to raise her children. She feels healthier and happier – and her mom has noticed. Their time feels more special and enriched.
Joseph went back to work, and once he settled in, he asked to meet with his boss. He made sure the meeting was at a calm time and he went prepared with written notes. He shared his admiration for the company and his boss and how being checked on so frequently had affected him both at work and at home. He then asked for a specific “check-in” time. Joseph also shared that he learned better when asked leading questions rather than having his deficits pointed out directly. It took some time to work out the bumps, but now, Joseph and his boss meet at regular times to talk about his development areas. Joseph’s overall productivity and job satisfaction has increased significantly – and his wife knows his name now!
Do you see the types of boundaries drawn here? Can you also tease out a few tips on how to properly set a new boundary with an already established relationship? Time, place, and word choice/method matter.
Think about your own life. Do you suspect you need boundary changes? For some, this may seem impossible or too complicated. It is important to learn new skills and have support when making important relational changes. The road a healthier life is not always easy, but it is worth the effort. If you want to learn more, do not hesitate to contact The Center • A Place of HOPE.
Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board-certified Group Psychotherapist. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and more.