• Alicia Paz

How to Work on Boundaries

Boundaries are like fences. For some, it can be that all your boundaries are brick walls where no one is allowed in or your boundaries can be picket garden fences where every weed is let into your personal garden. As you can imagine, neither is healthy nor effective. Each person in your life deserves a different type of fence. When I teach DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness this is met with a lot of shock and questions. How do you create boundaries for others?

1. Assess your current relationships: this is something I have had clients write down. It may sound silly but write down the name and relationship of everyone. Start small, just family or just friends or even just your top three people. This list also doesn't need to be only best friends or people you are super close with.

2. Gut Feeling: It's hard for many to do this step as "gut feelings" are sometimes difficult for those with mental health issues. Look at the name, take a few deep breaths and think about the relationship in the current state. What was the last conversation you had? What was that experience like? Did you feel safe and comfortable? Did you dread the interaction? Do they respect your current boundaries? For some this may include journaling, talking it through with a (non-mutual) friend, thinking about it on your own or chatting with your therapist. If you find this really hard or feel like this is going to end with you not putting yourself first, here's a list of Interpersonal Rights. A similar list is also in the green DBT book.

3. Take Action: Start with one name. It might be easier to choose an acquaintance over your best friend or mom, at least to start. This is an ongoing process and not something you will complete in a day or week or maybe even a year. Think about what a new boundary would look like. This isn't about extremes or forcing a boundary in one day. A new boundary could be not answering calls at 2am from someone who uses you for rides, or telling a friend you want to be closer and you would like to hang out this week. New boundaries aren't just about cutting people off or moving them to arms-length. They can sometimes be about moving people closer. Start small create new rules that would ideally be mutual (not ignoring someone or ghosting someone). Having a conversation would be great but you can also create a new boundary first and get the other person on board after.

Looking for DBT skills to help have these potentially difficult conversations? An explanation of the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills can be found here