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Mullen-Johnson: A Therapist’s Guide to Healthy Boundaries

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By Crystal Mullen-Johnson

Boundaries are personal limits one establishes as a safeguard to create peace, respect, and the maintenance of a healthy well-being. However, though boundaries are important, a discussion about boundaries may have never occurred during your childhood years.

People aren’t born with boundary setting skills therefore we have to learn how to set them.  As I mentally stroll down memory lane reflecting on my childhood years in Demopolis, AL, I recall adults telling me to “stay in a child’s place.”

I was also told not to ask questions because that was considered talking back — I asked questions anyway. These are examples of mental conditioning statements that create anxiety at a time when one should establish boundaries. As a result, these statements are unlikely to avoid conflict or create real boundaries.

Let’s talk about boundaries and why they are important to your well-being. Boundaries should align with the values that govern ones’ decision making. Values should change as one evolves into adulthood. Boundaries should include decisions about money, relationships, physical space, and emotional well- being. Boundaries can be healthy, rigid, or poor.

A person with healthy boundaries is assertive, values personal opinions, and doesn’t have a problem saying no to others. A person with rigid boundaries has barriers and are not comfortable expressing emotions. Those who have poor boundaries overshare information, are overly involved in other’s problems, and are often taken advantage of in situations. Additionally, they are likely to express passivity and will often compromise their needs in the interest of others.

Healthy boundaries are difficult to establish if you do not love yourself or if you are accustomed to putting other’s needs first. Your needs often go unmet if you “go along to get along.” Boundaries are often dishonored when not discussed or enforced. People do not communicate boundaries because they feel guilty, fear rejection, worry about abandonment, or fear suffering a loss. If boundaries are not communicated, one may take advantage of your time, abuse your resources, or disrespect you.  Your mental health matters and it is perfectly fine to say, “No.” Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen if boundaries are established?

 

Consider setting “SAFE” boundaries by doing the following to protect your mental health:

Say no to requests if your schedule is compacted. Consider, is the request reasonable? If not, communicate a clear and simple “no”, without overexplaining. Too often people make excuses because they fear negative evaluations by others.  Being misleading can be consequential. Honor yourself by being truthful.

Assert yourself to communicate your boundaries. Express your boundaries while taking into consideration other’s feelings.  Use “I” statements to communicate your need by taking ownership of your thoughts and feelings. Be confident and clear when you communicate your boundaries. Check if your expectations of others are realistic when boundaries are communicated. Remember, your boundaries may pose a conflict with other’s views because they are simply your unique boundaries, but that is okay.  Consider compromising, only if necessary.

Focus on self-care. Your emotional, physical, and psychological well-being is important.  Remind yourself that self-care requires a conscious effort which includes managing your time, resting, hydrating, staying active, and setting boundaries.  Give up control and do not fear delegation. Giving up control is a scary concept, to some, but doing so can reduce stress.

Establish a balanced life. As we adapt to our new norms, we certainly need boundaries. Many employees are transitioning back to the office and people are back to the hustle and bustle of overworking, overspending, and socializing.  Maintain a schedule that creates balance with work and personal pleasures. Make gradual changes and make good choices. Remember, we are riding the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as millions are vaccinated, yet many people are not. Establish balance as your live a new normal.

I encourage you to honor yourself and establish boundaries throughout your life. Your mental health is worth it!

 

Crystal Mullen-Johnson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Registered Play Therapist in Birmingham, AL with more than 16 years of experience in providing counseling. Strive Counseling Services is a private practice located in downtown Birmingham that offers therapeutic mental health services to children (play therapy), adolescents, and adults. Strive offers evidence-based therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Contact us at (205) 721-9893 to inquire about Telehealth Services.