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The Importance of Setting Boundaries in our Lives

By Deborah Schwartz, LCSW-C 

We might walk down the street and see a sign that reads, “Don’t Step on Grass” or go to a meeting where the presenter says, “Please turn off your cell phones.  Most of us will abide. Others may challenge the situation. But we can all agree that limits are being set to protect and safeguard a piece of property or someone’s self-respect. We may even be grateful that these rules (reflecting our  goals and values) are made for us and not by us.  Truth be told, setting boundaries can be a painful process. Not only will you occasionally step on some toes, but you also run the risk of clashing with others. 

Clear and  established boundaries help us to take care of ourselves emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  They are absolutely essential in our relationships with others, whether those relationships are at home with our family or in the workplace with colleagues. Those boundaries tell people in your sphere of influence that you respect yourself  and others. 

The benefits of setting limits can be freeing. For example, you will find that you have more time and energy.  When you say “No” to things you don’t want to do and people who drag you down, and say “Yes” to spending time with people who fill you up emotionally or doing activities that you’re interested in and enjoy, you’re enabling a happier, healthier self.  Boundaries provide emotional liberation from needless energy spent beating yourself up and second-guessing yourself. 

So, how do we set boundaries? 

  1. Trust and believe in yourself. Know your values and limitations.  Think of the rules and principles you live by.  Get to know yourself as best you can. This means that you need to learn what’s important to you, and what you really value apart from anyone else. Gaining access to your inner world by becoming familiar and comfortable with your own beliefs, emotions, feelings, and ideas is essential. The better you know yourself, the better you are able to understand and choose those significant others that best mirror the kind of life experience you want to have.
  2. Acknowledge that  your needs and feelings are as important as other people’s.  Many of us want to do the right thing, help others, be the first one to volunteer our time, or stay late at work to assist a client or colleague. We also need to be mindful of when we are overextended or when our kindness is being taken for granted.
  3. Learn to say “no” and be accepting of others when they say “no.” Be clear, firm and direct when you decide to set limits. Try to be strong, in your body language, and don’t over-apologize. Remember, you’re not asking permission to say no.  

If you follow these steps, expect discomfort. These conversations may feel uncomfortable and difficult, especially if you are inclined to want to please people. There may be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved, and that’s normal. They’ll get used to your new boundaries over time. 

We have many people to please on a daily basis, and it’s no simple task to manage all the demands  andtake care of our own needs  at the same time. Having reasonable boundaries means knowing and understanding what your limits are and placing a value on them. 

Deborah SchwartzDeborah Schwartz is a therapist for JCS. 

JCS provides individuals and families throughout Central Maryland with a broad array of services and resources for emotional and behavioral health, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, financial stability, and living with disabilities. To learn how JCS can help you live your best life, please visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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