By Jasmine Payne, HMT Resident in Counseling in Northern Virginia
We have all heard the word boundaries. What do you think of when you hear it?
Common answers include: a brick wall, a barrier, a way to keep people out, a line drawn in the sand, something that keeps me safe, or a tall privacy fence. These are all great visuals, but they are not an accurate representation of what healthy boundaries look like.
Examples of Types of Barriers
More accurate representations may be a wall with open windows or an access door, a moat with a drawbridge, or a net with specific gaps. These visuals incorporate the traditional ideas of boundaries as a type of barrier, while also allowing opportunities for connection.
What is the cost of creating impenetrable barriers?
Walls and fortresses are designed to keep people out and by nature they keep us safe from hurt, pain, betrayal, etc. We will be able to avoid betrayal if we never allow others to get close to us. We will avoid heartbreak if we never open up to a partner again. We will also be alone and isolated. If your boundaries are completely solid you are definitely safe… but at what cost? The answer is cost of connection, love, understanding, freedom, friendship, and support. Is missing out on all of these profound emotional experiences worth it? If we keep our doors and windows boarded up, no one will be able to truly see us.
It’s okay to retreat, occasionally.
Maybe you are in a place where you just endured a severe emotional wound, for example loss/death/betrayal/infidelity/lying. Maybe you aren’t ready to be vulnerable or to be seen quite yet. That’s okay. It’s okay to retreat behind these occasionally, to lick your wounds, and gather your strength. It’s when you decide that this is where you’re going to live out the rest of your days that boundaries become misshapen. To begin breaking down our emotional barriers and walls we have to examine why we put them up in the first place.
Creating boundaries is a protective mechanism.
We create these boundaries because we don’t want to get hurt again, that makes sense. However, I encourage you to put windows, access holes, or entryways in your boundaries. These points of entry show people how and where they can meet you appropriately. An example of a healthy boundary is: “I am willing to meet with you to try to reconcile our argument if we can maintain respect for each other, remain calm, and agree to meet at a public place for an hour or less.” This allows for communication to occur in a healthy way. Another example may be “I know we agreed to be friends, but I am going to need some time to heal. I feel fine with an occasional text, maybe 1-2x a week, but other than that I cannot engage with you frequently. If you continue to push me to engage more often, I may have to stop communicating entirely.”
Quick Tips for Setting Effective Boundaries
- Identify your needs
- Be clear and concise in your language
- Do not apologize for expressing your limits
- Decide what the consequences will be when your boundaries are crossed/dismissed/ignored
- Be committed to sticking by your decision
Boundaries are amazing tools. They give you space to respect and love yourself and others at the same time. When you have found a healthy balance in your boundaries you will not feel as though you are emotionally drained, in turmoil, or guilty. It may feel uncomfortable to stand up for yourself, your time, and your limits but the more you do, the easier it will become.
Start small and build from there!
About Jasmine Payne:
Jasmine is a Resident in Counseling and provides services at the Fredericksburg location. She is a two-time graduate of Longwood University, receiving her B.S. in Psychology along with an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Throughout her graduate studies, Jasmine worked with teens and adults who belonged to various minority and multicultural populations. She currently sits on the executive board for VA-ALGBTIC and has over a year of experience working with this specific community. She also has familiarity with a wide spectrum of mental health concerns including anxiety/depression, grief, belonging, high stress, moodiness, self-improvement, motivation, relationship issues, substance use, and many more.
She works under the supervision of Alycia Burant, LPC, NCC. In the event clients have any questions or concerns about Jasmine’s work, her supervisor can be contacted at 950 N. Washington St. Suite 322 Alexandria VA 22314, 540-845-6940, or firstname.lastname@example.org.