If there’s one theme that comes up in counselling sessions more than any other, I would say it would be around the concept of boundaries. Healthy boundaries and healthy relationships go hand in hand. Whether we are talking about the relationships in a company or community, or the relationship between a husband and wife, the same principle applies: ‘better boundaries=better relationships.

Many psychological issues can simply be a result of poor boundaries. These are just some of them:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Anger Management Issues

Boundaries are property lines. They define property. In the relational realm they help define people, where they begin and end. As human beings, we exist in relationship. We must have connection with others. But in the midst of connection, if we are to be psychologically and spiritually healthy, we must also have freedom. Boundaries help us to stay free in the context of relationships. They help us to ‘define our souls’. I am not you, and you are not me.

Boundaries exist in the ‘unseen’ world of relationships, but also exist In the physical realm. An example of physical boundaries is ‘skin’. Skin forms a separation between what is in us ( organs, muscles, bones etc) and the outside world. I for one, am glad we have skin.

Some examples of relational boundaries are:

  • Words ( ie saying ‘No’)
  • Geographical distance
  • Time ( time away from certain people)

Through exercising these things, we are setting limits on people and ourselves that communicate our value systems and our true selves.

People with good boundaries are clearer about their identity, are less susceptible to control or manipulation from others, are more assertive, and are more motivated. They enable us to develop a clearer sense of what our ‘property’ is AND isn’t, and therefore give us a greater sense of ownership over our lives. When we have a greater sense of ownership, we are more likely to take pride in, and look after ourselves- much like you would generally look after a car or house that you own, as opposed to just renting it.

Healthy boundaries help us to perceive ourselves with greater clarity. Much like a quality picture frame will cause the picture inside it to ‘pop’ and stand out, they help your soul to ‘pop’. We become more aware of our true selves, our honest opinions, our talents, our passions, our desires. This helps us to be clearer in our choices about vocation and life direction… because we have a greater clarity about WHO WE ARE and WHAT WE WANT.

If you recognise that you need to improve in the ‘boundary department’, here are some tips:

  • Connect with a supportive team or group (it is very difficult to set limits on people in isolation, it is to scary)
  • Practice ‘Baby No’s’ with people that are safe, and have healthy boundaries themselves
  • Be prepared for resistance without. When you begin to set boundaries, some people won’t like it. They may get angry, use guilt or sulk.
  • Be prepared for resistance within. You will probably struggle with fear and guilt. Feel the guilt and do it anyway ( it’s probably false guilt). You may also feel anger, over realising that you have been manipulated, controlled or violated in the past- because of a boundary deficit in your life. Plug in to your support group.
  • Read some good material on the subject of Boundaries regualarly. I highly recommend ‘Boundaries’ by Henry Cloud and John Townsend http://www.cloudtownsend.com
  • If you need additional support, plug in to counselling

Remember, boundaries lead to freedom. Don’t use them to shut everyone and everything out. Use them to keep the bad stuff out, but the good stuff in.

Happy boundary setting

Nick Gwynn

Counselling Perth