The demands of work, personal relationships and the expectations of others can be overwhelming and exhausting. Clinical psychologist Loyiso Maqubela explains that drawing a line on what we are prepared to accept is important for our own self-respect and mental wellbeing.
“Setting boundaries is about the limits and rules we decide on in our relationships with others and this helps us to hold ourselves accountable for our own behaviour and happiness,” says Maqubela, who practises at Netcare Akeso Milnerton mental health facility.
“Having porous or no boundaries often invites a lack of respect from others and leads to feelings of being disrespected and mistreated. Many individuals who struggle to say ‘no’ may feel they are being taken advantage of, or continually find themselves getting involved in others’ problems, but setting healthy boundaries can help them break out of these destructive patterns.”
“We all have the right and the responsibility to let those around us know what we are comfortable with, what we can and can’t offer, and to show resistance when these lines are crossed.”
He emphasises that setting boundaries is not about trying to change another person’s behaviour. “Rather it is letting your needs and limits be known and should be a reciprocal process. Even if you don’t agree with another person’s boundaries, they can still be respected,” Maqubela says.
“People may struggle to set boundaries for various reasons, including how these boundaries were modelled to us in our upbringing. It is often uncomfortable to assert our boundaries when we are used to a certain pattern in our relationships, especially with authority figures and those who are closest to us. It is quite natural to feel a sense of guilt initially about pushing back.
“We may worry about how others will perceive and respond to it, and the resentment that may come from setting our boundaries. We don’t have control over how other people will feel, but we are all entitled to respect. This requires us to define what that means for us in the different spheres of life, while also recognising and appreciating others’ boundaries.”
Ten tips for setting boundaries and sticking to them:
- Know what your priorities are, and what is a ‘nice to have in the moment’ when you are setting boundaries. This will help you focus on achieving what is most important for you.
- Be clear, concise and consistent in communicating your boundaries.
- Boundaries are not static or fixed; they evolve over time. There is nothing wrong with letting others know that things have changed, and you are no longer willing to accept the situation as it was.
- Start gently. Use small adjustments in your language to convey the message. For example, ‘Please knock when you come into my room’.
- If your message is not getting across, draw the line more firmly: ‘I need you to knock before entering my room’.
- Let go of the desire to control how others feel, you can only take responsibility for upholding your own happiness and your own boundaries.
- If someone reacts badly, explain that you are not trying to offend them and it is necessary for you to set these boundaries for a more emotionally healthy dynamic.
- If you tend to be a ‘people pleaser’, let go of coming to the rescue in every crisis. Learn to let people find another resource to draw on.
- Practise self-compassion. Setting boundaries is not easy at first, but with practise you will keep making progress. Be kind to yourself.
- Other people may initially disapprove when you lay down your boundaries. While this may not be comfortable, it is better than feeling disrespected.
“It is also useful to reflect on why we may have allowed some of our boundaries to be crossed and allowed our resentment to build up in situations where we felt taken advantage of,” Maqubela says.
If you are finding it difficult to establish or stick to your boundaries, professional help is available to support you through the process. At Netcare Akeso mental health facilities, multidisciplinary practitioners including psychologists, psychiatrists and occupational therapists, offer outpatient and inpatient services to support mental wellness.
“American social work theorist, Professor Brenè Brown, described setting boundaries as ‘having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others’. As psychologists, we can help support a person through setting personal boundaries and the tools for maintaining them, even in difficult situations,” Maqubela concludes.
About Netcare Akeso
Netcare Akeso operates a network of private inpatient mental health facilities and is part of the Netcare Group. Netcare Akeso provides individual, integrated and family oriented treatment in specialised inpatient treatment facilities, as well as certain outpatient services, for a range of psychiatric, psychological and substance use conditions. Please visit www.akeso.co.za or contact [email protected] for further information.
In the event of a psychological crisis, call 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day for emergency support. Psychiatrist consultations can be made through Netcare appointmed™, online at www.netcareappointmed.co.za or by calling 0861 555 565.
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