Looking back through an old journal, I read a reflection on the function of boundaries during a time I was feeling the impact of a lack of them in my life. Our boundaries exist in us. Even if we aren’t aware of them, we feel when they are crossed. There’s an emotional cost that, over time, can become detrimental to our well-being and our relationships. In my journal, I wrote:
Boundaries are the carving of the riverbed
so water can flow, otherwise
water will dam and spill over
or spread into a thin, lost layer over the earth
In simple terms, I like to think of boundaries as where we end, and someone else begins. If we have a clear sense of our boundaries and we protect them, life feels more like it’s flowing. If we let people into our space beyond what we are comfortable with, we can feel blocked, flooded, and overwhelmed. If we give too much of ourselves away, whether it’s with oversharing, over-giving, or generally overdoing, we are spread into a thin layer – we don’t feel like ourselves because so much of ourselves has gotten away from us.
Thus, the need to find and define our riverbed. Our boundaries may shift depending on our life circumstances or particular relationships. Since I’ve had a child, I’m more aware of the boundaries that need to get created around my time and the way I want to use my energy. For people in my life that I know feel more draining – that spread me into a thin layer of myself – I have firmer boundaries.
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Ways to create stronger boundaries for me include limiting what I share, and how often and how long I speak to or see someone. It’s not really about the other person, it’s about taking care of me. It requires attuning to yourself, noticing what’s happening in your body and mind in different circumstances and around certain people.
There are people who fill me up; who I can spend hours talking to and still feel contained within myself – perhaps even expanded, but in a nice way. Due to my time and energy limitations, I may not talk to these people as often, but this boundary again is not related to the person – it’s related to noticing how it feels when I put pressure on myself to reach out when I don’t have the emotional or time resources to do so. I’m attuning to myself.
Though this description of boundaries is not comprehensive, one thing I would like to highlight is that our boundaries are fluid – like water. Boundaries are a process of being oriented toward ourselves in a caring and compassionate way. When we commit to finding and honoring our boundaries, we discover so much about ourselves – our needs, what lights us up, what helps us flow, what kind of people we are drawn to, how much alone time we need, what our limits are.
Boundaries aren’t just for relationships. Like I mentioned above, we can protect our time and energy with boundaries, but boundaries also apply to areas including finances, our physical space, our sexuality, and our spirituality. Attuning to ourselves so we can set healthy boundaries can feel really challenging at first, especially if we struggle with asserting ourselves or connecting to ourselves, but over time, the process can start to be a natural and invaluable resource.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, author of Wildly Wise: Trusting the Nature Within provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.
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