If you want to create a healthy and happy family – it all comes down to boundaries.
Having clear boundaries is important in many aspects of life – personal, professional and social. These boundaries are formed by our cultural, spiritual, ethical and personal views.
But before we go too far – exactly what are boundaries, why are they so important and how can a counsellor help people to set boundaries in place?
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries can be described as guidelines, rules and limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways that other people can behave in their presence and around them (Katherine, n.d.).
Cloud and Townsend (2011) explain that boundaries are where a person’s responsibility to himself starts, and his responsibility to others end. These boundaries also include the way a person will respond when someone oversteps these lines.
The easiest way to explain personal boundaries is to define where a person ends and others begin, and they are defined by the emotional and physical space the individual allows between themselves and others. Personal boundaries enable a person to decide what sorts of communication, interaction with others, and also behaviour is acceptable (Katherine, n.d.).
Why are Boundaries Important?
According to Katherine (n.d.), part of the importance of setting boundaries is that it is a way to practice self-care and self-respect. Boundaries also help with communication in relationships, and creating space and time for positive interactions. When relationship boundaries are set and observed, it helps to build a positive and healthy relationship.
So what do healthy and unhealthy boundaries in relationships look like?
A person with healthy boundaries:
- values their own opinions, and does not compromise their values for others;
- shares their personal information in an appropriate way;
- knows their own personal wants and needs, and has the ability to communicate these effectively;
- knows to accept it, when others say no.
On the flip side of the coin is the person with unhealthy boundaries. A person with unhealthy boundaries:
- overshares personal information;
- finds it difficult to say no to the requests of other people;
- is over-involved with the problems of other people;
- is dependent on the opinions of others. A sign of a person with unhealthy boundaries is if they are accepting of abuse and disrespect, fearing rejection if they do not please the other person (TherapistAid LLC. 2016).
Boundaries for Children
There are parents who believe that it is good to let children share in decision making, but the downside is that it can lead to giving too much power and control to the child. This results in the opposite to what the parents are hoping to achieve. The only way sharing power and control is effective, is when the parents have well-established limits and boundaries in place.
Some parents find it difficult to say no to their children and this makes it tough for them to set limits. It is important for parents to parent and not be their child’s friend.
One of the greatest advantages of setting boundaries for children, is that they feel safe and that their world is under control. It is a proven fact for a child to grow and thrive, they need a secure home with structure.
Another benefit when parents set limits for their child, is that the child will be able to set their own limits as they mature.
When parents’ boundaries are too loose, the children will have inappropriate control and power in the family. This is often an indication of a family in crisis.
Even when children are not exhibiting serious behaviour problems, loose boundaries can also mean that too much adult responsibility is placed in the hands of the child. Conversely, when the parent’s boundaries are too rigid, the children can move into an adolescence of withdrawal or extreme rebellion (Edutopia, n.d.).
It is from time to time necessary to re-examine a boundary and also to make some changes to it. When looking at making changes it is also good to reflect on the reasons why these changes are made. It is helpful for this process if family members support each other and it can also be beneficial to make use of professional support (Adfam, 2010).
After deciding on a boundary, setting up the boundary and communicating the boundary, the last step is keeping the boundary. The parent has to notice if the boundary is being kept. This goes one step further by also acknowledging when the boundary is kept or broken, and lastly responding when the boundary is broken and decide the correct way to react to it (Adfam, 2010).
How to Set Boundaries
When visiting a counsellor to help with boundaries in your family and personal life, the counsellor and client will create a suitable behaviour change program. This program is then implemented over a period of time, with counsellor and client working as a team to identify, set and maintain these boundaries.
Author: Corey Human, B Th, M Counselling. Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience in providing counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans. In relationship counselling and education, his aim is to empower each couple with the tools to help themselves when they get to points of conflict in their relationship.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Adfam. (2010). Setting and Keeping Boundaries. Retrieved from https://www.adfam.org.uk/cms/docs/Adfam%20handout%20-%20setting%20and%20keeping%20boundaries.pdf
- Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2011). BOUNDARIES: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Retrieved from http://cwjc.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Boundaries.pdf
- Edutopia. (n.d.). Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Children. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/sites/default/files/resources/stw-glenview-healthy-boundaries.pdf
- Katherine, A. (n.d.). How to Create Healthy Boundaries. Retrieved from https://www.uky.edu/hr/sites/www.uky.edu.hr/files/wellness/images/Conf14_Boundaries.pdf
- Therapist Aid LLC. (2016). What are personal boundaries. Retrieved from https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/relationships_personal_boundaries.pdf