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Mental health conversations - Healthy boundaries crucial to mental health

2022-07-29  Justine /Oaes

Mental health conversations - Healthy boundaries crucial to mental health
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For many of us, the subject of boundaries might be foreign because of our socialisation and upbringing. We are brought up in homes where we are often told to accommodate others and to place others’ needs before ours, even when it’s detrimental to our well-being and mental health. Hence, in adulthood, setting healthy boundaries becomes challenging as we perceive having boundaries either as a selfish act or fear that we may offend others or lose relationships. In turn, boundaries are instrumental to our self-care because it teaches us our personal values, defines our identity and strengthens our interpersonal relations because we learn to respect the self as well as others, including their boundaries.   

Positive psychology defines boundaries as a set of limitations or borders that creates a clear distinction between where we begin and others end. We need boundaries to navigate our lives in a healthy and respectful manner, but also to safeguard ourselves. Having healthy personal boundaries is crucial because it limits unsolicited involvement and enmeshment with others. The essence of boundaries is embedded in our geographical world – each country has a boundary that separates it from the rest, and has its own rules and regulations. Therefore, we cannot enter foreign countries without travel documents and visas but also as foreigners, we need to obey set rules otherwise there are consequences. In general, we don’t do as we please when we are in others’ homes, in the same manner we cannot allow people to do as they please in our lives.  

As people, we have emotional, physical, sexual, material, workplace and time boundaries. Meaning, we can set boundaries in these aspects of our lives so that we don’t feel other people are taking advantage of us, because sometimes, we may not have boundaries at all. Other times, the boundaries might be too rigid, hence healthy boundaries are what we need to strive for. According to therapist aid, we may present ourselves in the following manners:  Rigid boundaries - may avoid intimacy and close relationships, unlikely to ask for help, has few close relationships, very protective of personal information, keeps others at distance to avoid possible rejection. Loose boundaries - overshares personal information, difficulty saying “no” to others’ requests, overinvolved with others’ problems, dependent on opinions of others, accepting of abuse or disrespect, fears rejection if they don’t comply with others. Healthy boundaries – values own opinion, doesn’t compromise values for others, shares personal information appropriately, knows personal wants and needs and can communicate them, accepts when others say “no” to them.   To set healthy boundaries, it’s important to first identify where you lack boundaries and with whom. Secondly, to communicate assertively using the “I” statement, e.g. “I feel disrespected when you come late for our appointments every time”, instead of placing the blame on the other. With assertive communication, we take responsibility for our feelings while communicating our displeasure. Thirdly, don’t over-explain yourself, sometimes a “no” is just a “no” and lastly, set consequences to educate others on why boundaries are important.  

Healthy boundaries can be taught early on in childhood, but it’s also never too late to learn and apply them in adulthood. Remember consistency is the key in teaching others how you want to be treated. Your mental health is important. 

* Justine /Oaes (Clinical Psychologist Intern)

2022-07-29  Justine /Oaes

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