Defining Self-Boundaries – What are Boundaries? (Part 1)

Boundaries are essential for interpersonal relationships. In my clinical practice, I often encounter individuals struggling to define their self-boundary, maintain a ‘couple’ boundary, or manage the complexities of different dyadic boundaries in a family system. In this 3-part series of blogs, I will be sharing with you a definition of what boundaries are (Part I), how to consider boundaries within the context of your life (Part II), and the different types of boundaries (Part III).

In this first part, let’s talk about what boundaries are, and the difficulties individuals often face when setting them. The act of setting a boundary can be defined by putting clear, healthy & respectful limits with others to ensure that your feelings, needs, emotions, and self is expressed and understood by others. You probably think that this sounds like a healthy thing to do to maintain good mental health, right? Interestingly enough, boundaries seem to have gained a negative connotation over the years. Many individuals feel guilty, ashamed, selfish, or anxious when trying to set a boundary or are preoccupied with being seen as controlling or uncaring when choosing to set a boundary—even if done in a respectful and wholesome way. For this reason, a lot of people don’t set limits and find themselves overwhelmed and flooded with difficulties in their relationships and with their mental health.

As a result of a lack of clarity about boundaries, many individuals I see in my private practice struggle to create greater clarity about what it is that their true ‘self’ thinks, feels, wants, needs, values, and desires. They also struggle to resolve doubts about the appropriateness of the boundaries they have set. You might want to consider the following questions to ascertain whether you are having difficulties identifying your boundaries and limits and setting appropriate boundaries for yourself.

Have you ever found yourself asking:
• Is it okay to put a boundary up with my partner, my friends, or family?
• Is my partner controlling if he or she puts up a boundary with me?
• Do I set a boundary if my sister said something hurtful to my partner?
• Is it acceptable to set a boundary with my parents?
• Am I a bad partner or friend for setting boundaries?
• Am I a bad friend or partner for saying no to something that doesn’t make me feel good?
• Etc.

In the second blog in this 3-part series on boundaries, I will provide you with a framework to consider in resolving struggles you may be having with boundaries in your life.

Mélodie Brown, B.A., is a therapist and completing a clinical psychology doctorate (D.Psy). At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, she provides psychological services to adults and couples under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.. In the last year of her clinical psychology doctorate, Mélodie has completed all of her clinical training. She is in the process of finishing her thesis before receiving her license as a clinical psychologist.