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  • Brooke Aymes

What is a Boundary in a Relationship?

Mental health professionals always place emphasis on the importance of boundaries during the holiday season. It is a huge buzzword that can be found all over social media. Boundaries are usually described as limits that we place on our relationships based on what feels comfortable for us. Putting limits on our relationships might appear to be selfish or rude or problem causing. They can be uncomfortable to implement because they might force us to say no to a loved one or to not show up for a loved one’s event. We might not want to implement boundaries out of fear of appearing selfish or possibly hurting our loved one’s feelings.

Therapist discussing boundaries in family relationships.

The concept that many people do not see is that —despite being uncomfortable at times, boundaries actually preserve relationships. Boundaries protect our most meaningful relationships. That might be confusing because how are we protecting our relationship with our loved one if we might be appearing selfish or might be hurting their feelings? Let’s run through an example—

My loved one invites me over for their holiday party. This loved one in particular gives me extreme anxiety (for whatever reason maybe past things or uncomfortable communication). If I attend this holiday party for the entirety of it, I will be left feeling exhausted, irritated, anxious and upset. When I am feeling these uncomfortable feelings I am at risk of reacting to a situation in a negative way or saying something negative that I cannot take back. If I react negatively or say something negative that I cannot take back, the meaningful relationship with our loved one is at risk. 

We do not want to put the relationship at risk so we implement boundaries. The boundaries that we choose for our communication and interaction with our loved one is totally up to us and can change at any time depending on how we are feeling. We do not always have to tell our loved one that we are implementing boundaries. In fact, sometimes it may be better not too. Let’s go back to our example—

It probably is not best to tell my loved one that they increase my anxiety. Instead, I can practice self awareness and check in with myself and how I am feeling prior to the holiday party. If I am already feeling anxious, I might decline the offer to attend the party knowing that it would increase my anxiety. Declining the offer might look like, “Thank you so much for the invite. I am not up for the holiday party this year, hopefully I will see you in the New Year.” If I am feeling well, I might decide it is best to engage with my loved one and choose to attend the party. When we choose to attend the party, we might put a timeline on how long we plan on staying and have an exit strategy prepared if we start to feel uncomfortable.

A man in a santa hat practicing healthy boundaries in his relationships with family members.

Not all boundaries have to be communicated, but some boundaries absolutely have to be communicated. Some examples of boundaries that have to be communicated might be when our boss consistently asks us to work outside of our work hours without being compensated. We might be forced to communicate that we are not available unless we are being compensated. 

If our parents consistently do things with our children that cause us to feel uncomfortable. An example might be that we tell our Mother that we are not comfortable with our child having sugar. However, our Mother feels that sugar is harmless and continues to feed our child sugar against our wishes. This would be a boundary that would need to be communicated with our Mother.

If a family member continues to bring up a topic that is uncomfortable for us. Maybe they continue to discuss what we are eating and how many calories things are when weight and diet is something that we struggle with. This would be a boundary that would need be communicated.

A boundary is a limit that we put on our relationships. Some boundaries need to be communicated and others do not need to be communicated. The most important part of implementing boundaries is consistency. It is normal for people to push back on boundaries and it is our responsibility to remain consistent. The more consistent we are, the more that we are protecting our mental health and protecting the relationships that mean the most to us.

Boundaries help us in so many different ways. They help us continue to protect the things that are important to use like our time, money, individuality and relationships. They help us continue to have a stronger identity and they benefit our emotional, psychological and physical well being. They lead to a more fulfilling life because we have time for things that bring joy rather than always feeling obligated to do things. Boundaries help us to manage stress and decrease icky feelings like anger, confusion and resentment. They ultimately lead to a greater understanding of wants and needs for ourselves and others.


Nj Addiction therapist Brooke Aymes climbing Mt. Tammany at the Delaware Water Gap as a form of self care

Hey, I'm Brooke --I'm a licensed anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals, adolescents and couples in the states of New Jersey, Delaware and Florida. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are interested in learning more about the therapy process and would like to schedule a free consultation, I would love to chat with you!

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