Setting Personal Boundaries

anxiety counselling brightonAn old friend of mine had a habit of marching into my home and making the tea whenever she came to visit. Without so much as a by-your-leave, she would rifle through my kitchen cupboards while I stood in the doorway privately fuming. I’m sure her intentions were good – she wanted to be helpful and kind. I, however, ended up feeling taken over, intruded on and uncomfortably redundant.
From my perspective, her actions took away a small pleasure for me to be the host to a friend in my own home. Pointedly, I never offered to make tea when I visited her at her place. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t get the hint. Looking back, I can see that by remaining in the kitchen doorway (with a grumpy face on that my friend couldn’t see since she was too busy selecting mugs and shaking down boxes of teabags) I was failing to take responsibility for my part in this little charade. Essentially, I had neglected to effectively communicate my personal boundaries i.e. by all means offer to make the tea – but I’d like you to ask before you go rummaging around in my private space!
What are Personal Boundaries?
We all have limits as to what we will tolerate in other people’s behaviour and what we will not. These are our personal boundaries and they will be unique to us. There might be lots of crossover with other people’s boundaries – and we can use our own set as a guide – but problems often arise when people draw their limits in different places. If we are unable to communicate our personal boundaries to the person who has, perhaps unwittingly, stumbled across them, resentment can build up and relationships become strained or lost.
Listening to our Bodies
In counselling and psychotherapy, people sometimes claim that they do not know what their personal boundaries are. The right kind of conversations can help us identify them and, luckily, our bodies will often give us clues. We can look out for situations with others where, for example, muscles become tense, our stomach flips over, we have difficulty swallowing, sigh or twiddle our hair. Armed with the knowledge as to what behaviour we will tolerate and what we will not, we can begin the task of communicating these boundaries to other people in a way that they can hear.
How Can Counselling and Psychotherapy Help?
Counselling or psychotherapy can provide a supportive space in which to think about what your personal boundaries are and how best to communicate them to the outside world. It might be that you have been expecting others to somehow read your mind as to where your personal limits lie. Or that, perhaps growing up, you have been so used to being intruded upon  – particularly by those on whom you were dependent – that you did not realise that setting and communicating boundaries (i.e. saying ‘no’) is an acceptable and healthy part of relating to other people.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and Counsellor in Brighton and Hove, UK
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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