Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries
There’s lots of talk floating around these days about “healthy” vs “unhealthy” boundaries. Which actually THRILLS me. I’m a boundary enthusiast and I love that people are talking about boundaries, even if not all the information out there is fully informed. Any kind of processing and questioning happening around the importance of boundaries is a good thing in my book.
As with most things, with boundaries there is a ton of complexity and grey areas when it comes to what is considered “healthy” or “unhealthy.” For instance, the boundaries that might be really healthy and ideal for me, might actually be quite unhealthy and problematic for you. Why? Because we’re different people, with different lives, different histories, different needs and preferences, etc.
So, deciding on exactly what boundaries to have and how those boundaries will look is completely up to the individual, however, most healthy boundaries share three things in common.
- They are clear.
- They are expressed.
- They are enforced.
Let’s talk about these three things in a little more depth.
Healthy Boundaries are Clear
You can also be proactive and work to get more clear on your boundaries before the uncomfortable scenarios occur. Journaling is great for this, and I’ll talk about that more toward the end.
So, let’s look at an example of a clear time/emotional labor boundary you might decide you need to set with a friend who is constantly venting about relationship drama.
Here is the clear boundary you come up with: "I need to limit our conversations on that topic to 15 minutes, otherwise I know I start to feel resentful and drained.”
Ok, so you’re now clear within yourself about what your limits are and how much you’re willing or able to give.
Moving on. Number two…
Healthy Boundaries are Expressed
An example of clear expression: You’re on the phone with your friend, she launches into relationship stuff and you stop her and say, “Hey, we can talk about your girlfriend for 15 minutes, but that’s all the emotional bandwidth I have for that today.”
You got clear on your boundary (your needs and limits), you expressed your boundary firmly, clearly, compassionately, but unapologetically, and now it’s time for number three… enforcement.
Healthy Boundaries are Enforced
Maybe she respects the boundary, maybe she doesn’t. If she doesn’t, and continues talking about her relationship, then you'll need to enforce it again. How you do that can look many different ways. Maybe you decide to verbally repeat your limit again and if she still doesn't respect the boundary, you decide to end the conversation. But again, this could look many different ways.
Journal Exercises for Getting Clear on Your Boundaries
First exercise: Write down a few different types of boundaries, then journal about one of your most important boundaries in each category. Really flesh it out… What is your boundary? Why do you have that boundary? How do you know you need to have that boundary? How do you feel when you don’t express and enforce that boundary? What are the consequences? What would it take for you to enforce the boundary with regularity? What are things that might stand in your way, or have stood in your way in the past? etc.
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