Week 1, Session 2: Boundary styles!
Hello everyone! How are you doing? We’re back for session 2! We hope everyone’s feeling settled into the course, and feeling ready to really get started.
If this is the first time you’re reading one of our course documents, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!
With that, let’s get started!
The goals for this session are:
- To understand the difference between rigid, relaxed, and healthy boundaries
- To connect with our personal needs
- To start to get motivated to apply our own boundaries
As you might remember from the last session, we do grounding exercises at the start of every session! Grounding exercises are a set of strategies that help us when pain or difficult memories become overwhelming. They’re designed as techniques to stay “present” when we feel ourselves “dissociating” or as though we’re outside our own bodies. If, at any point, you feel uncomfortable when reading this session (or any other time), you can use one of our grounding exercises to cut off those hard emotions. They work as their own boundary in a way, between the present and the past.
If you can, please join us.
**Our first grounding exercise for this session will be…
**A visualisation technique.
Sit up straight on your chair and close your eyes, if you are comfortable. Otherwise, look down. Imagine you are standing in sand. Ahead of you is the sea. Behind you, a forest. The sun is shining, but there’s a lovely wind blowing. You are safe.
Right next to your feet, you will see a wooden stick from the forest. Pick it up and draw a line in front of/ahead of your feet. Now there’s you, then the line, then the sea. The sea tide comes and goes but does not cross your line.
Now slowly come back to your senses - first in your feet, your legs… all the way up your body. We will be working on drawing this line, these boundaries you choose, in real life.
The sea may, at times, come close to it and attempt to erase that line, so we will need to keep this internal idea of where it stands - but it will not fade completely. It lives on in our minds.
In situations where you feel yourself dissociating or panicking, draw that line in your mind. Hold against the sea. Even if your boundary is not as firm as you want it to be, or it’s faded, it is still there. Picture it.
Remember: every one of us is different. A grounding exercise that works for someone may not work for you. That’s totally fine. We’ll be doing a different exercise each week, so we can find the ones that work best for us.
Fun question: If you could suddenly become amazing at one activity, what would you choose? Just think about it for 2 minutes.
As we were discussing last time, healthy boundaries come from identifying and understanding our limits.
Do you sometimes feel like you are agreeing to do things you don’t want to do? Do you find yourself uncomfortable in social situations? Do you struggle to separate your work life from your personal? Do you feel other people tiptoe around you? All these situations are often the result of having blurry or unhealthy boundaries in your life. Really, we get it!
Still, because this type of thinking and these events are often so common, it might feel overwhelming and even impossible to imagine changing the way you deal with boundaries. We promise you it’s not, or we wouldn’t be writing these sessions! Both creating and defining boundaries can give us an incredible sense of agency in our lives; boundaries help us connect with the parts of ourselves we like the most - and to live a more enjoyable life.
Before we go deeper into understanding our own, unique boundaries, we need to remember that not all of us will have our boundaries in the same place, for the same people, or in the same situations. Together or as individuals, we will experience closeness and openness in different ways. That’s part of being human, your own full self. Still, there are typical influences we consider when we first come to naming or knowing our own “lines in the sand” - things that may affect the way we perceive and define our own boundaries.
- our heritage or culture
- where we live in or come from
- specific aspects about our personalities: whether we consider ourselves to be introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between, etc.
- our life experiences: both positive and negative - it is hard to untangle our boundaries from the past, as boundaries are often constructed or loosened as a “protective” reaction from past harm, or to avoid past danger. This is because we are trying to avoid what happened to us from happening again. In the short-term, these boundaries are meant to keep us set. However, as time moves on, it is up to us to decide if these boundaries continue to serve us, or if they are preventing us from exploring and living the life we prefer.
Our idea of boundaries is also affected by:
- our family dynamics and structure
- the life stage we are in - in age or emotion
In a sense, our boundaries are all of these things together - our experiences, ideals, and values - that solidify and communicate our sense of “self” to the world outside. Our boundaries, in their lines - not only in the sand - can be a shape or construction of our person. It’s what others get to see of our internal world.
This is why we need a relationship with our own set of personal boundaries to be able to establish relationships with others.
But what do these boundaries look like, as we begin to overlap and intersect with friends, families, and with ourselves? There are different boundary “styles” that you can define for yourself:
First, there are:
Rigid boundaries, where a person:
- tries to avoid intimacy
- doesn’t tend to ask for help
- Is overprotective of personal information
- keeps other people at a distance out of fear for rejection
- doesn’t have many close relationships
- can seem detached in a romantic relationship
Relaxed boundaries, someone:
- has difficulty saying no to other’s requests
- is over involved in other people’s problems/lives
- overshares personal information
- fears rejection if they don’t comply with requests
- cares a lot about others’ opinions
And there are healthy boundaries, where we:
share personal information in an appropriate way
value our own opinions
don’t compromise our values or core beliefs for others
can communicate these beliefs
have flexibility - we can adapt our boundaries to the moment and mood - so boundaries don’t prevent you from building a life you enjoy, as you change, grow, and consider yourself in a multitude of beautiful forms and colours
can say “no” and are also able to accept “no” from others
That is major for us as a team of women - often conditioned to “please” and just accept anything someone asks of us. Saying “no” is hard to remember and practice. But someone with healthy boundaries should feel comfortable saying “no” to others when they don’t want to do something. And, just as importantly, can accept a “no” in return. Otherwise, a “no” is a refusal of mutual compassion. It is about their needs over ours, not a communication of emotions, values, time, or our concerns.
Boundaries are about respect. We respect others by speaking our boundaries, but also in honouring and hearing the boundaries of others. It’s important to remember we don’t only need to keep an eye on setting our own boundaries, but we also need to pay attention that we are not overstepping someone else’s, and noting who is kind to ours.
But don’t worry, you are not meant to identify fully with any one of these boundary styles. We usually use a range of different boundaries types depending on context. We might tend to have more rigid boundaries at work, relaxed boundaries in friendships, and very healthy boundaries with our family. Boundaries rely highly on setting and culture - we might feel comfortable to say or act in a certain way with friends but not at work - or the other way around. It can depend on group and closeness, and also on the cultural characteristics of where you are and who you are interacting with.
We want you to accept that your boundaries can be different, that they represent and reflect different needs and emotions and comforts - and are also involved with what level of trust you have in what space.
On rigid boundaries:
A lot of us would usually think boundaries issues are connected to people with relaxed boundaries, but, as we can see, rigid boundaries can also be a problem. If we are very inflexible with our boundaries our relationships can suffer; we might find it difficult to connect with others and find ourselves feeling lonely or isolated. It is great to feel comfortable to know where your comfort zone is and respect your needs, but keep an eye on how many “no”s you are giving and if it’s really working for you.
Does saying “no” satisfy you long-term or does it simply offer short-term relief? Does it take you where you want to be?
On relaxed boundaries:
If you, on the other hand, are finding like you need a little more structure with your relationships, or that your boundaries are too bendy - then you might benefit from learning some techniques to communicate what you want and need without guilt. Although it is normal to feel guilty!
This is one of our main things when considering boundaries: many of us feel like we would be disappointing others by having our own wants, needs, or identities - or by restricting our time - and that we might lose their trust or interest. It does not help, either, if we were told that total self-sacrifice is necessary, or feel we have to burn ourselves out completely in order to shine. Or if others believe the same.
Setting healthy boundaries, however, usually doesn’t result in disappointment or shame. And if it does, then you may want to reconsider if those relationships are worth having. People that love us and care for us, truly, should be able to understand that we need a bit of space every so often, or that we are allowed to take care of our wellbeing.
On healthy boundaries:
Being able to create healthy boundaries in our lives is key to our mental, emotional, and physical health. We deserve to be well and to decide our own time, safety, and self-expression. It is a good idea to remember this fact when you are finding it difficult to express your desires.
Start by trying this phrase with others. Say: “I need to look after myself, and setting this boundary/doing this is a part of that”. That can be all someone needs to hear to understand where you stand.
Care is a cycle of giving and receiving. There are times someone needs to do a bit more giving when the other is hurt or struggling - but the relationship should always be reciprocal. Boundaries are not disappointments; they give the other person the opportunity to give you what you need in return, and be in full intimacy with others.
In this, a part of setting healthy boundaries is acknowledging that - as much as you are a planet of your own, you are also part of a universe. A universe in which you rely on others for your needs and they rely on you for theirs. This gets tricky when our needs contradict. Like if one of your needs is to have a strong bond, but a boundary is to not always be an emotional support provider; it can be hard to navigate this.
That’s why leaving room for flexibility in how you create your boundaries is the best way to thrive. Boundaries shouldn’t be rules. They’re guidelines to help you live.
Let’s choose a simple example:
You decide you never go to sleep late on Sunday night, as you have work and responsibilities that mean you have to wake up early on Monday. Your cousin who lives in another country is getting ready to start her day, and decides to call you just as you to get into bed to sleep. Do you pick up the phone? What would you do? It’s not a trick question!
A rigid boundary response is to ignore the call or tell them you can’t talk because they called at the wrong hour.
A relaxed boundary response is to pick up the call and talk for hours, because she needs it.
A healthy boundary response is to pick up the call and talk for a little bit. You tell her you are wanting to sleep soon, but you hear their voice, catch up on the latest family news, and sleep with a full heart.
You “broke” the rule, but you didn’t misspeak what you wanted or lose out on sleep.
Now let’s look at a more complex example:
Let’s say you had a stressful week but you realise a friend is in crisis and is turning to you for help. This is a friend who doesn’t always ask for help.
A rigid boundary response would be to say no, you cannot support them at this time and they look elsewhere for help.
A relaxed boundary response would be to support them while also supporting many others who are craving your attention - but are not in need of immediate support.
A healthy boundary response is to realise that supporting them at this time is the right thing to do, because you care about them and you can manage the emotional burden on this occasion if it is inconvenient. Boundaries help us realise when it is the right time to step up.
One thing is for sure: Setting boundaries will be stressful to begin with but the discomfort is only short-lived. Make room for that discomfort! Together, we will process these feelings and make a plan for setting those lights.
Again, we can feel selfish or guilty when we first start placing these boundaries but, with time, it becomes normal and easier to do - especially knowing the positive impact it will have in our lives. The results will be motivating.
Now - we said this would be a creative course - let’s start building the foundations for your boundaries to find their place. The first thing we need to do before we start setting or even REMOVING boundaries is to look at our reality. What do we want more of? What do we want less of? And what do we want to stay the same/we are happy with?
Let’s do a thorough audit on our boundaries. Once we are clear on our needs and desires, we will be in a better position to be clear about them with ourselves and others.
Think about it this way. We love using our examples and visuals!
Let’s say you want to learn to dance a new style. The first thing you may do is research and learn about different dance styles. Second, you would be looking at which style you prefer. You feel you need to make some changes in your life to learn this dance, and you may imagine how it might feel when you are actually dancing.
Let’s begin gathering information from our past boundaries, and imagining what we want them to be in the future.
The homework for this session is…
Let’s start opening the abstract subject of boundaries in our minds slowly.
We suggest you write these out and, at first, answer whether it is a Yes or No. Once you’ve done that for the 14 questions, then look at the ones that struck you the most. Delve deeper. When does this happen? Does a recent example come to mind? Write them down.
- Do you feel you often do things you don’t want to do just to please others?
- Do you struggle to say “no”?
- Do you feel like people walk over you?
- Do you feel you have difficulty understanding where other people’s boundaries are?
- Are you worried people will not want to be close to you if you start setting boundaries? Are you worried they might talk about you in a mean way?
- Does it worry to find yourself lonely if you don’t comply with everything you are asked to do?
- Does your family respect your wishes, decisions, and limits ?
- Do your friends respect your wishes, decisions, and limits ?
- Does your partner respect your wishes, decisions, and limits ?
- Do you feel you are able to take “no” for an answer without questioning people?
- Do you feel you stretch yourself at work/volunteering?
- Are you worried people will think less of you as a professional/person if you don’t work long hours?
- Do you often find yourself without time to do things you like?
- Do you feel guilty or resentful in your relationships with people?
Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this.