A beginner's guide to... Boundaries

Posted on 5/09/19

Now that we’ve (rightly) stopped thinking that our emotional health is something we need to keep under wraps, psychological speak has seeped out of the therapist’s consulting room and into our everyday chat.

One example is ‘boundaries.’ These are guidelines, rules or limits you create to define ways you want people to behave around - and communicate with - you. But like most things that slip from the medical field and into the mainstream, its meaning can feel blurry.

The lack of understanding around boundaries was what inspired psychotherapist Jennie Miller to co-author a book on the subject*. She tells Happy Not Perfect that boundaries in your emotional life function just like those IRL. ‘They’re not about restricting your life or not letting other people in. You create boundaries to help you make sure you let the right people and experiences into your world.’

They’re more important now more than ever before, she argues, as pre-existing boundaries created by time and distance have been eroded by technology. ‘In the past, you’d see a light flashing on an answer phone machine, but you could choose not to pick it up,’ she explains. Compare that to now when there’s nothing to stop the cortisol spike when a notification for a curt email flashes up on your phone.

Disabling work email notifications so you’re not bombarded on weekends and instating a post-8pm airplane mode ritual to make space between your wind-down time and texts are two simple examples that can help.

Sometimes knowing where to draw the line is harder. A situation perpetually making you unhappy is a pretty good indication. Say you’re calling a parent nightly, despite it leaving you feeling like trash? Miller recommends reflecting on the motives behind your actions and whether there’s a way you can create a boundary that will help make communication less tough for you.

‘It’s scary because everyone wants to be liked. But remember that it’s okay to choose who you want in your life,’ Miller explains.

A life lived with boundaries is one where you’ll create headspace, welcome gaps in your schedule and cultivate respectful, reciprocal relationships. Which, Miller adds: ‘are the only ones worth having.’

Hear, hear.

FOOTNOTE: Remember: relationships are hard and there’s no shame in seeking professional help to create the ones you want.



Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyrfeelings