Updated: Sep 7, 2018

What are boundaries and why are they important?

Boundaries are agreed limitations on a relationship. The reason that we set boundaries on a relationship is so that others know what you are and are not willing to do. Oftentimes we develop unhealthy relationships with people, whether at work, at home, or with friends, because we do not create and maintain boundaries.

It can be difficult to set boundaries, we might be scared that people will be angry or confused, that people will think we are being stubborn or rude, but boundaries allow us to avoid burnout, show others that we value ourselves, and might even teach others how to value themselves more too.

In order to set boundaries, we need to know what our values are. What are we willing to allow others to do to us or in our presence?

If a friend constantly cancels on plans with us at the last minute, will we continue to make plans with them without first talking to them about it? If a colleague always asks for help with projects without giving you any credit, will you continue to spend your precious time helping them? If you are always asked to stay late at work or given work that doesn’t fit your job description, will you continue to take it?

Setting clear boundaries and doing our best to maintain them will help to protect us from being taken advantage of by others (whether or not they are aware of what they are doing).

Boundaries within Counselling

Within the world of counselling and psychotherapy, boundaries are a big deal! Boundaries help to keep the client psychologically, and physically, safe. They stop the therapist form entering inappropriate relationships with clients, they stop the clinician from taking advantage of the client, and they allow the client to know where they stand.

The maintenance of boundaries within the therapeutic relationship might also model these behaviours for clients, perhaps repairing a lifetime’s experience of inappropriate relationships with others.

There are many important boundaries within counselling, including starting and finishing sessions on time, not missing sessions without prior notice, paying fees, and so on, that might seem simple, but they are so important. In maintaining these boundaries, the therapist is showing the client that they are consistent, they can be counted on, and that that it is possible to be assertive with boundaries without it negatively impacting on the relationship.

Boundaries at work

It is so important to maintain boundaries at work, and often it is easiest to set boundaries at the beginning – when you first start a new job.

Boundaries at work might include ensuring that you leave work on time, saying ‘no’ when someone asks for help when you are already busy, not giving out your personal number to colleagues.

Again, it is important to evaluate you values and goals in order to set boundaries that work for you. It might be that your goal is to move up the ladder at work as quickly as possible, then by all means work those extra hours or take on those extra projects.

However, if your goal is to create a life that is balanced and allows you to spend quality time with your loved ones, then it is important to evaluate where you are spending your time, and, if you are able to, to leave your work at work and to leave work on time.

Counsellors have their own therapists and supervisors, with whom we are able to talk through any concerns with, allowing us to leave work at work and enjoy our home life that much more. Perhaps you are able to find someone that you can do this with so that you can get that load of your chest and enjoy your free time without worrying about work.

Boundaries in relationships

Boundaries in relationships are super important. I’m not just talking about romantic relationships either, they are important in all relationships; with our parents, siblings, friends, even our own children.

Boundaries can help us to avoid becoming to enmeshed with others, allowing us to then live our own lives alongside our loved ones, not for our loved ones.

One of my favourite saying is that we cannot pour from an empty cup – you cannot give to others and help others if you are struggling yourself. And how are we meant to fill ourselves up if we are constantly living for other people.

In order to set boundaries within relationships it is important to evaluate and get to know our own emotions. What am I feeling, why am I feeling it, do I like feeling like this, what would feel better? In answering these questions, we begin to develop our boundaries naturally. We develop boundaries that feel good to us and go with our nature.

Do we like to dote on our loved ones or do we feel that we are being taken advantage of? Do we need that hour once a week to sit and read a book, go for a walk, or watch a movie?

Boundaries in relationships are even more important when you are the caregiver or the parent. You need to avoid burnout in order to continue providing for those you love. A caregiver to someone with mental health issues, must be able to attend to their own mental wellness. A parent to young and energetic children must be able to rest in order to keep up with the kids.

How to set boundaries

So, hopefully it is now clear that boundaries are important, but where do we begin? How on earth do we set boundaries?

As I mentioned, it is so important that the boundaries that you are setting make sense to you. There is no point in setting boundaries if they do not serve you.

  1. Get in tune with your needs – what do you need in order to feel nourished and full?

  2. Get in tune with your emotions – what is your emotion and what is coming from someone else? What brings about negative emotions and are you able to stop that from happening?

  3. Start as you mean to go on – if you are starting a new job or entering into a new relationship, try to set out your boundaries from the get go, and stick to them.

  4. Start small – if you are implementing boundaries into an existing relationship or job, it might be easier to start with something small. Maybe you turn off your work phone on the weekend. Maybe you lock the door when you take a bath to stop your toddlers from running in. Whatever feels doable, start there and build.

  5. Seek advice – talk to a friend, talk to a colleague, find those who have solid boundaries and learn from them, or talk to a counsellor. A counsellor can help you to identify where boundaries might be lacking, or help to quell the anxiety about setting up some boundaries.

If you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please contact me on

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