This week, systemic coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister and NLP Master Practitioner James Pereira QC talk about the important of boundaries and how to work on them.

One of the most vital components to maintaining our mental health and wellbeing is to become the master of our universe, or in layman’s terms, to master setting very clear boundaries. Our ability to set clearly defined boundaries is established in very early childhood and travels with us throughout life. The more stable secure and balanced the environment you were raised in, the easier it is to set clear, healthy boundaries.

Healthy boundaries allow you to say yes or no when you mean yes or no, no matter how hard external requests for your time, energy, and resources pull. Having a healthy boundary will enable you to listen to your deep inner voice and know what is right for you. You will know it is right because you will feel peaceful, calm, or excited in a healthy way. There will be no inner tension felt in your body.

What is a boundary?

A boundary is like a garden fence and it is expressed by the way we present to others in the world. Our boundaries can be established through the way we stand, sit, walk and talk. Think posture and body language. Just take a moment now to notice how you are sitting, pay attention to how you walk into a room where others are already present. What unspoken messages are you sending out to others?

We create boundaries when we set limits, when we are able to clearly state what we need. If you say no and people keep pushing you for a yes, if you ask someone to do something for you and they ignore you, if you allow people to walk all over you, then you need to work on your boundaries. And feeling is a great indicator of how securely in place your boundaries are. As you know now when they are secure we have a sense of peaceful calm.

If on the other hand you often feel angry, frustrated, resentful, out of control or overwhelmed that is because you have not clearly defined your boundaries. It is at times like this when anger is a really useful messenger. When the temperature rises on the anger thermometer it is the first indication that our boundaries have been violated.

How to set boundaries

If anger does come up as an indicator that our boundary has been transgressed, we can take the opportunity to use this as an access point, to engage with our anger and find a new path to an easier healthier and happier life. So, once you feel your anger starts to percolate to the surface the first step is to stop. Take a deep breath. Then name the emotion – “I am feeling angry right now.”

Zita Tulyahikayo

Next retrace back through your thoughts to when that feeling started and ask yourself “When did I start to feel angry?” “What happened?” “How did I set my boundary?” “Was I clear?” Often this can be an opportunity to see what perhaps you could have done differently, and then mentally rehearse and reinforce it. It is not unusual that as we start to set new clear boundaries it will trigger a strong reaction in others: any change you make that is for the better for you is going to ruffle a few feathers.

It is also important to back yourself and take responsibility for the part you play when people violate your boundaries. There is no point in blaming someone else for taking advantage of you when you gave them permission to do so. It’s a choice to reply to every email right away. Secretly we all respect people who have the ability to say ‘No’. It is a sign of strength, confidence, power. So make sure your ‘No’ is so clear people don’t even think to question it.

If you are not used to having boundaries, if your parents did not have clear boundaries, then you will initially struggle to not feel guilty, selfish, rude or negligent. In reality it is selfish, rude and negligent not to have clear boundaries. Boundaries are the invisible lines that not only keep other people out, most significantly they keep us in place, we can trust that we occupy an emotionally healthy sense of self-worth and value. Self – love and self-care are the foundation of healthy boundaries.

Signs your boundaries need work

James Pereira QC

For those who where raised by a mother who had a low sense of self worth they would have inadvertently picked up this pattern and loyally followed it. Those who feel worthless are more likely to compensate through unconscious patterns of behaviour in a vain attempt to outrun feeling worthless. Such behaviours would include, working too much (workaholism), and taking on too much responsibility.

Furthermore, people with low self worth are more likely to be high achievers or perfectionists to prove that they are enough. When you know you are enough you have nothing to prove and people can sense it. That’s why the career advancement rarely goes to the person who pulled out all the stops or went above and beyond the call of duty: giving too much is a weakness.

Be stronger

Our lives are filled with unconscious behaviours and emotional strategies to help us overcome our deepest fears. Wellness comes when we sort through our deepest fears and stop living unconsciously and reactively through them. We can change these behaviours once we understand what is holding them in place or contributing to them. Once these issues are resolved you will be stronger, better, brighter.

The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles. You can reach them at @LifeTherapyZita and @JamesPereiraQC.