‘Boundaries’ are often heard and repeated as something important for one’s personal well-being and relationships. For many of us, it may be hard to define and know when we are dealing with boundaries in our lives. In this post, I provide a working definition of boundaries and how mindfulness can be helpful in the discerning use of your boundaries for better relationships with yourself and others. I also provide an approach of how I have worked with clients using mindfulness-based therapy in developing healthier boundaries.
Boundaries are what an individual thinks, feels, or does to protect, contain, or be in integrity with their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual spaces. Healthy boundaries allow you to engage in the world in a way that is open to connecting with others and paradoxically protective of self. Overly rigid boundaries may prevent you from feeling close to people or cutting off opportunities to connect, and overly permeable boundaries may result in feeling at the mercy of others needs and influence. A boundary crossing is when a situation arises (frequently in relationship with others) where one’s personal safety or integrity was actually or perceived to be threatened.
Given this broad definition, how can one develop better boundaries for better relationships? Mindfulness in your personal practice or with the aid of a mindfulness-based therapist can help by slowing down experience, expanding awareness, and developing more choices when confronted with a boundary crossing situation. While mindfulness also has many definitions, in this post, I define it as the nonjudgmental tracking of your present moment experience.
Here are four areas that mindfulness can help develop boundaries that work better for you.
- Getting clearer about your own boundaries
This seems simple at the surface, but can be difficult for many. Mindfulness can help by getting clearer with your emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical boundaries and the cues for when a boundary crossing has occurred. Working with a mindfulness-based therapist can help slow down the process and help you reflect and attune to these cues, which are often felt rather than cognitively experienced.
- Knowing when a boundary is being crossed
As just mentioned, if you are clear about your personal boundaries and cues, mindfulness can help develop a sense for when they are being crossed. In mindfulness-based therapy, this can be explored by slowly parsing the cognitive, emotional, and somatic experiences related to boundary crossing events. With further development and practice, you may find yourself having more awareness of boundary crossings in real-time in life.
- Developing ways to respond to boundary crossings
With further awareness of when boundary crossings occur, you now have more options to respond (or not respond). Instead of unconsciously reacting, you can choose how to set boundaries in kinder and more connecting ways, which may also help you feel more empowered to develop the relationships you want.
- Insight into how you developed your personal boundaries
Using mindfulness to explore how you formed a belief system around your physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological boundaries can aide you in deciding if you want to change them. Change can look like having more options in responding and having choice of when to be more rigid or flexible with your boundaries depending on any given situation or relationship.
Getting clearer about your boundaries is usually the first area of developing healthier boundaries since it provides a compass to navigate relationships, However, I have worked with clients in all areas simultaneously and witnessed them developing better relationships with the aid of the work. On a final note, this mindfulness-based intervention is only one of many ways to help improve boundaries. Perhaps you have found something that works for you in your life or practice. Feel free to share what works or doesn’t work for you in the comments.
Stuart is a Registered Licensed Professional Counselor Intern in the state or Oregon. He works with individual adults, couples, and is starting a men’s group in early 2018. He specializes in using mindfulness-based therapy to help people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, grief, relational stress, and co-dependency. You can reach him by phone 971-266-1693. He provides free 30-minute consults either in person or on the phone.