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Setting Healthy Boundaries: Understanding What They Are (and Aren't)

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

This week, 'Therapy Begins with Tea' steeps on boundaries -- what they are and what they're not -- and offers an exercise to help you better understand your current relationship to boundaries.


Therapy Begins with Tea is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in imposter syndrome, attachment styles in romantic relationships, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

Boundaries: What are they?

We hear the word a lot -- on social media, in self-help books, with friends, from therapists. We hear that boundaries are important, but we're rarely ever taught what they actually are, let alone how to navigate them. So let's start to break it down.

Boundaries are the limits of the behaviors we accept from people we're relating to so that these relationships can stay fulfilling, healthy, and safe for us. They are our own rules of engagement. We can have internal boundaries and ones that we communicate.

I feel most comfortable meeting in social spaces while I'm getting to know this new person I'm interested in.

'Thank you for inviting me. I'm not up for it tonight, but are you free this weekend to get a meal together? I would love to see you.'

'I want to be able to talk to each other directly when we're upset rather than letting it build up or hearing about it from someone else.'

MisconceptionS & MYTHS

The biggest misconception about boundaries is that they lead to more distance than to closeness. We tend to think of boundaries like lines in the sand, with you on one side, them on the other. But boundaries are meant to help us connect, not keep people at arms' length.

Let's use the visual of a playground, for example. Playgrounds are just that -- a space for kids to play & connect with each other. Playgrounds have some sort of physical boundary to them, be it sand, a gated fence, a brick wall, something to demarcate the space and keep out whoever is not meant to be there (random animals, adults not accompanying children, etc.). The boundary allows anyone permitted inside to connect safely and happily. That's how boundaries can work for us too. Look back at the boundary examples above -- see how they set the terms of engagement in an effort to nurture connection.

Another myth about boundaries is that they dictate other people's behavior, whereas, in reality, they are meant to dictate our responses to other people's behavior. We can include requests on how we'd like people to respect our boundaries, but it's ultimately on us to make them, communicate them, and enforce them. I'll go into that more next week, but try out the full body check-in below to better understand your current relationship with boundaries.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)

Get into your cycle of breath. In through the nose, hold. Out through the mouth in a sigh. Repeat. Notice the sensation of the air filling your body as you inhale. Observe how your body adjusts on the exhale. Get deeper into the breath.

What comes to mind when you think of the word 'boundary'? Be still and observe what happens.

Are they words, images, emotions, sensations? Where do you feel them in your body right now? Is it more positive or negative? Observe.

Does it feel more like separation or connection?

If you'd like to go deeper, ask your body to imagine your boundaries as a playground. What does your playground look like? Is it empty or full? Are there others there with you? Are they inside or outside the playground? Does the playground have an outside perimeter? Are there doors or is it walled off?

What are you learning about the way you view boundaries?


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