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July 14 2016

Why We Need Boundaries

alishageary, Director of Content Development

Boundaries. When you have experienced trauma, boundaries are a necessity for your own personal growth and safety. A boundary is setting an expectation with clear definitions of what you can and cannot handle. A good boundary identifies what is your responsibility and what is not. Boundaries can be especially hard to set with our family and friends, especially when disfunction already exists.

For example, if you are known as the friend that people can always call at three in the morning, it can be difficult to change that expectation when you realize you aren’t getting the rest that you need. If you don’t have clear boundaries it is very easy to start resenting the friends that call you at three in the morning, even though you said it was okay once upon a time. When you get grumpy about it, they don’t understand where the grumpiness comes from because your tacit acceptance of calls late at night communicated that it was okay.

When you have experienced trauma, boundaries are a necessity for your own personal growth and safety.

So how do you fix it? How do you make sure that you are able to get the uninterrupted rest that you so desperately need and still be the safe person that people can talk to when they are in trouble? A boundary needs to be set. For example, you can say something like:

“You know that I love you. I am happy to be here for you when you are struggling. I also need to make sure that I get enough sleep. I realize that I might have indicated that you could call me at any time. That isn’t working for me anymore. So I am just letting you know that I am going to put my phone on do not disturb from midnight until seven in the morning. If you want to talk through things, you can call or text me before or after those times when I am not at work. If I don’t answer, I will try to get back to you as soon as I can, but it might take a while sometimes. That doesn’t mean that I am abandoning you or that I don’t want to talk to you.”

Setting boundaries is so hard, especially if you are a natural caretaker and a people pleaser.

Setting boundaries is so hard, especially if you are a natural caretaker and a people pleaser. This is also especially hard when you are a wife and/or mother. These are roles that have inherent expectations. But truly, the only way that you can be the best caretaker is to care for yourself first. If you nourish yourself first, you can nourish others. If you are healthy and fully present yourself, you can work on your marriage or choose to end it with clarity and strength.

I had a profound experience with boundaries one summer when I was a summer substitute at a residential mental health treatment center. I taught Sophomore English to a group of girls that were all around fifteen and were being treated for addictions and mental illness.

In order to teach at the center, I had to go through a week long training about discipline and therapeutic boundaries. We were taught what was acceptable and what was not acceptable in the classroom. If a student acted out, they were immediately taken into the hall with supervision. If they had an attitude, they were taken into the hall. If they fell asleep, they were taken into the hall. There were a strict set of rules that must be followed by the residents, the aides, and the teachers.

As we were taught restraining holds and center protocol, I began to get really nervous. I had taught college and thought I had seen everything. But this was really intense. I turned to a fellow teacher and asked, “Doesn’t all of this get in the way of learning? Aren’t we here to help them?”

The facilitator must have overheard me because she started talking about how the only way that we could truly help the girls was to maintain our own personal safety. If we were safe, the girls were safe. If we were safe, we could teach to the absolute best of our abilities. That is what the girls needed. Good teachers.

I admit, the first ten minutes of my first class were nerve wracking. It is quite an experience to teach Frankenstein, a novel about one creation’s desperate need for connection and love with his creator, to a roomful of girls with eating disorders, addictions, and mental illness. I saw the marks of self harm. I saw the sullen light in their eyes. When they inevitably tested me, I hesitated. I saw their faces change; I was someone they could manipulate. The temperature in the room changed. I went from being a potential power for good in their lives, to a push over. I did send the boundary breaker out into the hall, but the first class was a bust.

The second hour, I was ready. Ten minutes in, they pushed the boundary, and I sent three girls into the hall immediately. That class ended up being amazing. They opened up to me about their feeling of separation from their parents and friends. They understood why Frankenstein’s creature would turn to violence when he was rejected by his maker. They understood what it was like to be covered with scars. Because I stuck to my boundaries, the established boundaries of the center, the girls knew they could trust me.

When boundaries are clearly explained, when you know why you are setting them and what the consequences are, they can make your relationship closer because you come to trust each other more. There needs to be consequences and discussion about broken boundaries immediately. Holding people accountable after years of not having clear boundaries can be hard. If you can clearly discuss why things are changing, why there needs to be boundaries, and why there needs to be consequences, you can establish a new baseline for your relationship.

In all the research that she has done on shame and vulnerability, Brené Brown found that the most compassionate people are the people with the most boundaries. When she began to live with boundaries, she noticed a change in herself. “I was less sweet, but I was more loving,” she said. A relationship with healthy boundaries has less resentment, less anxiety, and less toxicity.

Ultimately, the people who can’t handle your boundaries and constantly break them don’t deserve to be in your life. Making the decision to break with them can be agonizing, but those who are unwilling to follow boundaries are toxic.

Ultimately, the people who can’t handle your boundaries and constantly break them don’t deserve to be in your life. Making the decision to break with them can be agonizing, but those who are unwilling to follow boundaries are toxic.

If you need more help with boundaries, check out our Pinterest: Boundaries board and the following resources:

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

About the Author

Alisha Geary is a writer, a dreamer, a pumpkin pie eater. She is an obsessive journaler, a reformed book hoarder, and a ukelele player. She has written for Leatherwood Press, Deseret Book, GeekTyrant, and Boostability. Alisha also taught college writing for thirteen years at Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College. Now she handles all the words for Bloom as the Director of Content Development. When not writing, she is probably singing or cooking. She has a Master’s Degree in Literature and Writing from Utah State University.