Mental Health Tips
February 16, 2022

From the Therapy Room: Setting Boundaries

Written by
Erika Wright-Garcia, LMFT
Reviewed by
Updated on
July 25, 2023

Whether we’re in therapy or not, we can all benefit from simple tools to support our mental health and manage the challenges we encounter in our daily lives. “From the Therapy Room” is a new video series from Two Chairs therapists bringing you the latest research-backed mental health techniques in a digestible format so you can apply them right away.

Stay tuned for more helpful techniques straight from the therapy room!

“Boundaries” has been a buzzword for some time now. But how do we actually go about setting boundaries? And what does the word even really mean?

A boundary is a limit or guideline that you identify and express to others to let them know what you feel comfortable and safe with.

Healthy boundaries allow us to honor ourselves and our needs, support healthy interactions and communication in relationships, and empower us to set limits when needed. There are different types of boundaries, including physical, sexual and emotional; and they can range from being rigid to fluid. 

A boundary is a limit or guideline that you identify and express to others to let them know what you feel comfortable and safe with.

An example of an emotional boundary is saying no to a request from a loved one when their request goes against your values, isn’t considerate of your time, or implies a sacrifice of something that’s important to you. Consider this: You have plans to go to dinner with your friends on Friday and have been looking forward to it all week. Your partner calls you in the morning and asks you to cancel so that you can spend time together. While you want to spend time with your partner, you’ve been looking forward to this event and value your friendships. Saying no in this context is a way of setting a boundary that meets your needs and honors your values.

If you’re feeling like you have a relationship where a boundary could help your mental health, here are four steps you can take to set it.

1. Reflect and identify your needs

It is helpful to reflect on different areas of your life and assess whether your needs are being met. If there’s a part of your life that feels exhausting, difficult, or draining, it might be time to set a boundary there. 

Take time to clarify your goals: What do you hope to achieve by setting this boundary? What will need to change in order for it to happen? This step is essential and takes time, so give yourself space and permission to explore and turn inward. 

Journaling, speaking with a therapist, or talking to a trusted friend or family member can help in your exploration of these themes. 

2. Plan a response and consider outcomes

Setting a boundary is a process and can be daunting or stressful initially. Try to navigate barriers and calm your worries by considering how others might respond to this boundary and how you will react. If someone challenges you, how do you want to respond? If someone is unable (for whatever reason) to respect your boundary, what do you plan to do?

3. Communicate your boundary

Once you’ve identified your needs and thought through a response, it is time to communicate your boundary with the person or people involved. When communicating, be respectful, clear, assertive and firm in your approach. Know that this can be the hardest part and it takes practice, so don’t be hard on yourself if it feels difficult. 

4. Notice the impact 

As you go through this process, notice if the boundaries you are setting are leading to the desired outcome. Remember that boundaries can be adapted as needed and can look different in different relationships. 

Setting boundaries can be hard work, but it is an essential part of taking care of yourself and supporting your mental health — and is even a way to strengthen your relationships.

If you feel like the support of a therapist could help you work through boundaries you need to set, schedule a call with a Two Chairs Care Advisor to learn how we can help you, or book a matching appointment if you’re ready to get started.

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