Establishing Healthy Boundaries

By Anastasia Foulouli – Dance Movement Psychotherapist, London

Do you ever feel lost and unseen in your personal relationships? Do you find that it is difficult to differentiate where you end and where other people begin? Are you unsure about who you really are and tend to please other people to avoid confrontation? Do you have a hard time saying no?

It is not a bad thing to say yes or try and make other people happy as long as this doesn’t happen at the expense of your own welfare. But what if it does? What if you let other people tell you how to behave and what to like? How can you set healthy boundaries in your relationships to protect yourself?

Boundaries are limits that a person uses to create healthy and safe relationships. It is a form of self-care, and ensures that you show to others your beliefs, your perspective, and how you expect them to behave towards you. Once set, they are not rigid, but tend to change as you change in order to match your perspective.

But why are people afraid of setting their boundaries?

Many of us feel that setting our boundaries will isolate us and make people dislike us. This is not true. It might be a challenge to set your boundaries, but then you will attract people that are willing to respect you and want the best for you, instead of manipulating and using you to satisfy their own needs.

And what happens when I suffer from an eating disorder?

Individuals with eating disorders often find it difficult to say no and set their boundaries. Instead, they tend to distract themselves from real problems by directing their thoughts into obsessive eating disordered thinking. Focusing on food instead of dealing with their thoughts and feelings gives them a false sense of control.

So how can I set healthy boundaries?

  • The first step in setting healthy boundaries is to give yourself space and time to explore who you really are and what you want from your relationships. Keeping a journal about your feelings and thoughts, as well as meditating, are great ways to keep in touch with your inner self and gaining self-awareness
  • Write down what feels important to you and be very clear when you communicate it to other people. When you are vague about your own boundaries it is easier for other people to cross them
  • Be consistent about your boundaries. People around you might not want to abide by them but you have to stay firm to make your point. If you change your boundaries depending on how other people behave, and back away from your own beliefs, you are in a way inviting others to not respect you
  • Say no! Respect your thoughts and your bodily sensations and say no when you don’t want to commit yourself to anything that doesn’t feel comfortable

Exploring your boundaries can be a long process. Experiment with different things before establishing your own healthy boundaries and remember that you can always change them according to your needs.

If you are in recovery, a way to establish your boundaries is to prioritise yourself and your wellbeing. So it may be that you need to distance yourself from activities and people that are interfering with your recovery process.

More about developing healthy relationships…

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