Kym Marsden’s monthly mental health column aims to help anyone suffering from any mental health concerns. If this article raises any issues for you please contact the resources at the bottom of this article.
Establishing boundaries is a critical aspect in maintaining both our social and emotional wellbeing. But what do healthy boundaries look like and how do we establish them in our lives?
Let’s start by defining what a boundary is. Simply put, a boundary is a constraint we set for ourselves across interactions with others that we engage within our lives whether it be personal, romantic, family or work related.
Boundaries should reflect or encompass your core values, beliefs and expectations whilst setting clear physical and emotional limits to safeguard you from manipulation, negativity or violation by others.
Honouring your limits should be an empowering process. It decreases the risk of you having to endure emotional fatigue, fosters self-care, increases resilience and strengthens relationships with others through self-preservation, all while increasing others’ understanding of us through educating them about our needs.
Right now, many of you may nod your head, as I ask if you have struggled at times to set and maintain boundaries. For many of us, this is the case due to:
- Being fearful of rejection or being seen in a negative light by others
- Believing our boundaries will cause conflict with others so we become avoidant
- Fearing we will be viewed as insensitive or selfish for saying no when pushing back on unacceptable behaviour
- Never having boundary setting role modelled to us so we are unsure where to start
- Believing setting boundaries will compromise relationships and you have a need to put feelings of others first before your own.
Two main areas boundaries should be set are in our personal and professional lives, so let’s explore these briefly as to why it is crucial to maintain a sense of self across these domains.
No matter what industry we work across when we deal with others, it is imperative to implement professional boundaries as it sets safe limitations and acceptable and effective behaviours for your interactions with clients to ensure you are able to strike a healthy balance.
Read on for a list of common areas that become a struggle at times when working with others that we need to be mindful of:
- Over-involvement: You become overinvolved with client(s), increasing risk of emotional distress due to mixed signals being sent. It’s important to be consistent by treating all of your clients equally to ensure you do not disrupt professional relationships (e.g. Outside of work hour calls and meetings, flirtatious statements or personalised compliments or use of pet names such as babe, darling, sweets, love, etc.)
- Disclosure of personal information: Although we need to build trust with clients, it’s not okay to disclose personal information about your life or enquire on personal aspects of their lives, as it can lead to misinterpretation with your clients. They may perceive the relationship as more than professional due to the level of disclosure and familiarity you are encouraging.
- Dual Relationships: These can be harmful due to a lack of objectivity as boundaries become unclear and you begin treating the client like a friend and engage with them outside of your work scope. This can skew your judgement and has the potential to lead to a relationship breakdown on both a professional and personal level.
Now let’s explore personal boundaries which I’m going to do slightly differently using a tool to guide you. I want you to ask yourself if you have ever experienced any of the below scenarios. If you answer yes to the majority then you need to strengthen your boundaries:
- You find yourself saying ‘yes’ even though you know you should have said ‘no’
- Guilt overwhelms you when you do put your foot down and say ‘no’
- You go quiet, retreat and don’t communicate your feelings when someone around you is being rude or disrespectful
- Fear of saying ‘no’ due to the fear you won’t be liked or valued by those around you, due to the fact you have put your needs first.
I want you to remember that boundaries are important in maintaining your mental health as people-pleasing will only result in you continuing to please others whilst depriving yourself and sacrificing your own happiness.
Establishing and maintaining boundaries can be challenging but persistence will pay off. Below are some tips on how to draw the line with confidence:
- Determine your needs to establish your boundaries
- Articulate these boundaries as required across relevant settings
- Trust your gut and learn to overcome any guilt associated with this process
- Be patient, consistent and repeat to allow necessary transformation across your interactions with others.
Lastly, you alone control your actions and choices. It’s unacceptable to allow others to determine this for you and healthy boundaries provide you with the permission you require to do less people-pleasing and more living!
I will leave you with this befitting quote by Henry Cloud: “Every human being must have boundaries in order to have a successful relationship or a successful performance in life.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:
- Spartan First Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1800 370 747
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forums
- MensLine – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet – healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
By Kym Marsden
Kym Marsden is a Kamilaroi woman and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with over 19 years’ experience in Mental Health and Community Services. Her qualifications include BA Health Ageing and Community Services, Masters Social Work, Dip Counselling, Dip Community Services (AOD and Mental Health), and Cert IV Training and Assessment.