Setting Healthy Boundaries

Graphic of a post it note that says learn to say no

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Good boundaries allow us to step into our integrity and show up with greater compassion. When we live a life without them, “we are not really showing up with our most generous, loving self” because we are not able to, said Katy Yahr.

The heart of boundary setting is realizing what’s OK and what’s not OK, as described by Brené Brown, best-selling author and shame researcher.

Communicating our true desires is an act of service in itself because “when we say yes to something we don’t want, it can be a disservice to ourselves and others,” said Yahr. This can lead to negative feelings such as resentment of the task, ourselves or the people around us.

Yahr employs this model for recognizing personal limits with her patients at Still Point, a counseling and therapy practice in Mount Pleasant.

“I try to help people get in touch with what is OK and not OK for them,” said Yahr, who helps them learn how to identify those parameters and the language to communicate them.

As a therapist and as a person, she helps others establish really good boundaries, as we can, too, for people in our lives.

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For example, she communicates to her patients that it is OK with her – although it may sound horrifying to other therapists – for them to text to her personal phone number, at any time, with scheduling information. Continuing to define the boundary, what is not OK with her is using this line of contact to divulge personal information.

Yahr finds that when she sets good boundaries and people respect them, she feels happy and giving, in line with Brown’s findings that the most compassionate people have the best boundaries.

In the rare instances Yahr feels angry, the first thing she has learned to do is stop and ask herself what boundary has been crossed: “I can always identify where either I didn’t set a boundary or someone has crossed a boundary that I’ve set.”

When enforcing your own boundaries, vocalize how it would make you feel if a person violated that boundary. Share your own values and recognize the intentions of the other person. You can validate what is true for both of you and describe how respecting the boundary will positively serve you and the relationship.

Relationships where boundaries are not respected, with good intentions or not, can be difficult to maintain, so it is valuable to center on this work.

Our boundaries are often tested when we feel compelled to give something of ourselves. So when faced with an invitation or an opportunity, acknowledge the request and the value of the gesture. Then you can pause the exchange by asking for
time to consider it, and perhaps you will ask for more information. Consider what you will be saying yes to and, inevitably, no to in your other facets of life, by accepting this opportunity.

If you decide to say no, you can appreciate the offer, communicate your no clearly and possibly give other options for what you would be willing to do.… or not! You can always simply say no.

In saying no and putting up boundaries, be mindful of using the words “but” and “and.” Often, when people hear the word “but” after a positive statement, such as appreciating a conversation, they will only remember the negative part said after “but,” such as needing to end the conversation, and forget the good that was said.

Those learning to set boundaries intentionally for the first time may eventually find that their initial boundaries are stronger than they need to be. As they become more comfortable setting them, they may find boundaries can be more relaxed.

“Boundaries aren’t supposed to be like a brick wall that nobody can get through. They can be fluid, and your boundaries might change over time,” said Yahr, guiding people to let boundaries reflect their life and loves. “Practicing boundaries is – I feel like – lifelong.”

Yahr encourages people to explore Brown’s books, podcasts and TED Talks for information on boundaries and consider working with a therapist to determine how to set, protect and evolve your boundaries.

By Molly Sherman

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