setting boundaries


Another aspect to developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself is being responsible and setting appropriate boundaries. There needs to be a counterbalancing force to acceptance. If you think of a parent dealing with his or her children (or you, dealing with one of you children), you can’t be only accepting. You know they can’t use crayons on the walls of their bedroom! They can’t eat only candy. And they need to get out of bed in the morning, go to school, be present, and do their best. In other words, they must learn to be responsible. At home as well as out in the world, they need to stay within certain boundaries and accept certain responsibilities.

The establishment of boundaries creates a sense of safety for the child. This allows for experimentation and a sense of freedom from danger. The parent must set a balance with boundaries wide enough to give the child the ability to test and explore while making sure the child feels safe. Too much freedom can be scary or dangerous. The parent must also establish a sense of responsibility so the child recognizes that to perform well in life, effort and learning must take place.

It is important to establish these same parameters in your relationship with yourself—and for
similar reasons. A child whose parents do not establish those parameters might grow up without
learning those lessons. One client of mine grew up in an environment that was very constraining. His mother and father were overprotective, holding him back, partly due to their own fears about the world. When he became an adult and left home he rebelled against their overly protective behavior. He reacted to their constraints by petulantly declaring in his new behavior that no one was going to constrain him anymore. He sought help after two DUIs forced him into treatment. In therapy, he was able to achieve an appropriate balance between a sense of freedom and recognizing the legitimacy of societal and personal boundaries.

In addition to setting boundaries with yourself, it is also important to be able to set boundaries with others; with friends, family, and even in business. So many times I work with people who experience
excessive stress in their lives because they have difficulty saying “no” for fear of being rejected, or experiencing someone else’s anger or disappointment.

Dr. Stephen Sideroff is an internationally recognized expert in resilience, optimal performance, addiction, neurofeedback and alternative approaches to stress and mental health. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s School of Medicine, as well as the Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics.