Boundaries – What They Are and Why They Matter

What is a boundary?

A boundary defines some kind of limit.

A boundary may be a fence, a sign, a time, an emotion, a space, or a word.

We may think of political boundaries that define the limits of countries, or property boundaries that define the limits of playing fields, or personal boundaries that define the limits of ourselves. Our personal boundaries evolve throughout our lives. We constantly develop limits and boundaries for ourselves as we interact with and learn from different people and groups. Many of our beliefs and attitudes about boundaries evolved from what we saw and experienced at home and at school.

Boundary principles and facts

Boundaries are essential to protect me – they are my invisible fences.

I am responsible to know, guard, and communicate my boundaries and limits.

If I know my boundaries, I can respect other’s boundaries.

No one has or keeps perfect boundaries.

Everyone struggles to establish and maintain healthy boundaries throughout life.

Why do boundaries matter?

At BrightQuest, boundaries are an important aspect of treatment. We support our clients in learning what their personal boundaries are and when they are crossing the boundaries of others. Consider these examples of boundaries:

I am responsible for my own happiness. I am responsible for my behavior.I own my attitude and outlook on life. I am not responsible for your happiness. You are not responsible to make me happy.I am not responsible for your behavior.
I am responsible for my choices.

I am responsible for my feelings.

You are not responsible for what I do.

I am not responsible for your attitude.

You are not responsible for my attitude.

I am not responsible for your choices.

You are not responsible for my choices.

I am not responsible for your feelings.

You are not responsible for my feelings.

Boundaries offer protection from people who might control us, hurt us, abuse us, manipulate us, or use us.

When I act contrary to any of these examples I am either crossing another person’s boundary or allowing another person to cross mine. I am either taking a part of someone else or allowing someone to take a part of me.

BrightQuest structures that support boundary development or maintenance

  • No Contact with family for a time after admission – Families play a crucial role in the success or failure of treatment at BrightQuest. For most of our population, families have struggled in their relationships with a loved one. They have come to BrightQuest with the hope that it will be the last stop on the road to effective living for their loved one. Often they have been over involved in rescuing or enabling their loved one, sometimes to the detriment of their own lives and other relationships. No Contact for a time allows the establishment or strengthening of healthy boundaries within the family so all members can live in healthy relationships.
  • No Touching without advance permission – Many of our clients have been sexually or physically abused earlier in life. Seeing one person touch another without invitation sometimes recalls those incidents and can be profoundly disturbing. Seeing non-sexual, loving touch can be curative of those memories. When a client in a group feels the need (or others in the group imagine it might be helpful) the client may ask another person in the group for “strokes.” If the other person agrees, the pair arrange themselves so the stroker can easily touch and gently stroke the back of the asking person. The boundary is still there, but it has been modified in a healthy way.
  • No lending or giving of cigarettes – A hallmark of mental health is the ability to select ones priorities and choices in a responsible way. Expecting another person to rescue you from the consequences of your behaviors or choices violates the boundary of the other person. Giving in to such a request from a peer is a violation of the peer’s boundary of responsibility and may reflect the peer’s inability to say “No.” Neither person benefits from such an exchange.

Structures like these and a staff trained to be aware of boundary violations support BrightQuest in functioning as well as it does.

Portions adapted from material originally published by “Michigan Reach Out!”