The importance of setting boundaries

Boundaries are the foundations of life: whilst we are naturally sociable beings, it is important to establish borders both within ourselves and with others to maintain a healthy, happy mind. We can split this into two: the boundaries you set for yourself, and those you set in your friendships.

Setting boundaries with yourself

The most important barriers to bolster are within. As a society we like to live in excess, and it can be difficult to rein in those instincts and figure out what is best for our physical and mental health. But exercising self-control is important; it gives us the freedom to make our own decisions and therefore bolster our sense of self-worth.

There’s nothing worse than gorging on something you know is bad for you and then feeling guilty about it afterwards. Harnessing the power to say ‘no’ can be incredibly emboldening: as Psychotherapist Stephanie Roth Goldberg says, “if you don’t set boundaries, you end up doing a lot of things you don’t want to be doing and other people end up draining a lot of your energy and time.”

Setting boundaries with friends

As humans, we are naturally empathetic. This is an important cornerstone in every relationship, but we also have to be careful not to bear the burden of other people’s issues and sideline your own emotional needs.

The pandemic has added extra stress and uncertainty to all of our lives, and it’s therefore ever more important to think about what is good for you and what is going to make you happy in the long run, rather than toiling away at ensuring other people’s happiness first.

“When we have unhealthy boundaries, we end up feeling like we have to hold everyone else’s feelings but our own, and that leads to resentment, anger, anxiety, depression, and stress,” says psychologist Babita Spinelli.

If a friend or partner is testing your boundaries or pushing them, then it’s important to consider how healthy that relationship is for your mental health.

Respecting other people’s boundaries

All relationships should be a two-way street; if you are giving or taking more than the other person then you must re-establish some kind of healthy balance. Consider whether you are draining someone else’s emotional resources and disrespecting their boundaries. Doing so will help bolster your own.

Final thoughts

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century poet, famously said that “your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices”. His advice has become incredibly pertinent in our digital age, where boundaries have become blurred: with our iPhones we are a touch away from connecting with anyone in the world. And during the long Covid lockdown, we’ve been unnaturally squashed together with our loved ones, making thinking about our boundaries and clearly setting them out more relevant than ever.

Exercise that self-discipline muscle: say no to gorging on that sugary food which will make you feel sick; say no to that extra hour on social media late at night instead of going to sleep; say no to that friend who pressurises you into doing things you don’t want to do and no to a friend who drains your emotional energy just when you need to be thinking about your own needs. And remember to respect others’ right to say no, too.

Further links