Three Common Misconceptions about Boundaries

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Have you ever found yourself wanting to set a boundary but struggling to make it happen? Or maybe you’ve set it, but are finding that it’s not having the desired outcome. 

Setting boundaries can be hard! And what can make it even more difficult is that many of us hold beliefs about boundaries that are actually barriers to clearly understanding and expressing our needs. 

 Here are some common misconceptions that can get in the way of healthy boundary setting. 

1. Setting boundaries is selfish

If you’ve ever been on a plane, you know that it’s important to put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone in need. This same concept applies to boundaries. 

We all have a limited reserve of emotional and physical energy on any given day, and when it’s depleted, we cannot show up as our best selves or in a healthy way for others—or ourselves. Taking care of our needs is the precursor to being able to support and care for the relationships in our lives. 

When we hold the belief that boundaries are selfish, we can sometimes associate saying “yes” with being kind and saying “no” with being unkind. However, that’s not always true. 

Take for example the following situation: Jane asks Sally to help her move on Saturday. Sally had other plans on Saturday, but feels bad saying no to her friend. Instead, she says yes, but on moving day she is irritable and frustrated with Jane and finds herself wishing she had said no, and she is counting down the minutes until she can bow out and go home. In this situation, Sally is neither being kind to herself or Jane. 

When we do away with the belief that setting boundaries is selfish, we can be authentic to our own needs and express them clearly and compassionately with others to create more kindness and connection in the long term. It also helps us be realistic with ourselves and think about what we need in order to engage in relationships in a way that we feel comfortable with. 

2. Setting boundaries is telling someone what to do

Boundaries are about expressing our needs and taking action on things that are within our realm of control. This means thinking about and expressing what we are going to do when a certain behavior or situation arises. 

In other words, boundaries are not about controlling others or getting them to change—they are about how we respond to others. 

For example, rather than saying “You can’t talk to me like that!” a healthy boundary is: “When you raise your voice at me during our conversations, I don’t feel respected or safe to express my point of view. If you raise your voice when we are speaking, I will take a break from the conversation until we can speak in a respectful manner.” 

3. Boundaries are one size fits all

We all have different relationships with the different people in our lives. Your relationship, what you view as acceptable behavior and interaction, and what you need and feel comfortable with are likely different when you think about your relationship with your boss, a parent, or your best friend. 

Because these relationships are inherently different, the boundaries for each of these relationships can be different as well. This is what’s great about boundaries: We can adapt and customize them to exactly what we need depending who we are setting them with.

4. Boundaries hurt relationships

We all want closeness and connection in relationships—this is an evolutionary drive we share as humans. Because boundaries are a form of limits, we can sometimes believe that setting them is a negative thing, like we are closing someone off or rejecting them. 

However, when boundaries are set in a healthy way, they express our needs and what we find to be acceptable. This means that boundaries help us be our best and most authentic selves in relationship. 

Rather than pushing someone away, when we set a boundary, we are actually letting them know how to get closer to us, how to help us feel valued and respected, and that we value ourselves and will demonstrate that by responding to boundary violations with an intentional plan.

Take a minute to think about your underlying beliefs about boundaries and how these influence you. If you find that you have unhelpful beliefs that get in the way of setting healthy boundaries, the first step to shifting them is to be aware that you have them, so that you can approach them with a new frame of mind in the future. 

Once you’ve built that awareness, try to reframe these beliefs and see how this influences your thoughts, emotions, and actions. If you need help, therapy can be a helpful tool for externalizing your thoughts and getting to a place where you feel comfortable setting healthy boundaries.

If you feel like the support of a therapist could help you or someone you know, 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.