Boundaries in Relationships

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What are boundaries?

Boundaries are the ‘space’ between ourselves and the other person. This can be emotional, mental or a physical space. It can also be explained as “the line where I end and someone else begins”, stated by clinical psychologist Ryan Howes. Another way to think of boundaries is imagining state borders throughout the country. We all have an emotional/mental/physical border that keeps us comfortable and safe. These borders indicate to people what is okay and what is not okay.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend leans in too close to you, and you want to immediately lean away? Your physical boundary has been crossed. Have you ever been part of a conversation and the other person shares too many details? That’s an emotional/mental boundary that is being crossed. Boundaries are applicable to all relationships. Whether it’s between friendships, family members or coworkers.

What’s an unhealthy boundary? Unhealthy boundaries include oversharing, being uncomfortably close to others, feeling extremely incomplete without your partner and being controlled by another. This can be observed in codependent relationships.

What does healthy boundaries look like? Healthy boundaries include keeping private information private, being considerate about your presence and not impeding on another’s personal space, taking responsibility for your own happiness and being open and honest with others.

How are boundaries formed?

Boundaries are formed primarily throughout childhood. If a child’s needs are met, they are able to develop a healthy sense of personal boundaries. However, if a child suddenly has to take care of a parent with an addiction/mental illness, there can be confusion as to what a healthy boundary is. Children who suffer verbal, physical or sexual abuse can also struggle with developing healthy personal boundaries.

Why are boundaries useful?

Healthy boundaries are useful as it helps to sustain our relationships, by giving it structure. We are able to communicate open and honestly, share our feelings and thoughts without impeding on other’s mental health. It helps to establish our own identity. It’s also good for stabilising our mental and emotional states.

If we don’t have boundaries set for ourselves, it may lead people to disrespect our time, our effort or our space. Unhealthy boundaries can even impede on our happiness.
For example, I used to keep my notification sounds on for my emails. Throughout the night, the “pinging” sound of my phone would wake me up. I started waking up annoyed because of the sounds. I’ve disabled the notification settings now. This is what setting a boundary looks like – although it is simple, it is effective and relevant for more serious situations. I respect my sleep and time-out from technology, so I took the necessary step to ensure this is respected.

How can we apply it to our lives?

1. Communicate!
First, communicate! Sometimes we may not be aware of our boundaries until it happens. That’s okay! Just make sure you communicate that with the other person so they know. Encourage them to also do the same with you.

2. Be honest!
This can also fall under communication. Be honest and clear about what is okay and what is not okay. You’re not just protecting yourself but also the other person from resentment, constant fighting or silent treatments.

3. Find support outside of the relationship.
Seek a professional that you trust to work through boundary issues. Sometimes it’s easier to navigate our feelings if there is a professional outside of the relationship, supporting us. Even a trusted friend or family member can help us through this.

4. Learn to say no.
If it is not in your best interest, say no. As humans, we generally have the innate ability to notice when we’re in a toxic relationship. It’s okay to walk away. It is within your ability and right, to say no and walk away. Don’t worry about what other people think!

5. Be aware of your needs.
In my previous post, I spoke about what ‘needs‘ are. If you prefer to be alone sometimes to recharge – don’t sacrifice that time. Prioritise space and distance to look after yourself.

6. Do your best to stay consistent.
Don’t look outward for self-esteem, search within yourself. The key to self-love is setting healthy boundaries. Always remember your own strength.

Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. In order to help others, we must first help ourselves. Think of ways you can start to make those positive changes. Is it by communicating with others? Or by writing down boundaries to work on? Maybe you can encourage someone who is struggling with this today. Life is all about learning and growing!

 

If you found this post helpful, please like, share or comment down below!
Love and light x

Image by Priscilla Du Preez.

 

 

How art has helped me: the teen years.

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*To make the post interactive, hyperlinks have been added. Videos and further information are there for maximum learning. Please note some videos may be triggering, so proceed with caution.*

High school was a place of discovery and I enjoyed the new-found independence. However, there was a power struggle between me and my parents. I admit, I was not the easiest daughter to deal with. At all. Restrictions and deadlines simply encouraged me to rebel, further and further. The more restrictions that came, the more resentment I harboured. I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. I couldn’t figure out why I was losing motivation. Some days I was snappy and other days I thought I might burst from feeling loved. During these few years, I had confided in a teacher that I had lost motivation to do anything (including the psychology assignment due that day). She told me to speak to a counsellor to try and help me get back on track. I’d never seen a counsellor before, and my view of counsellors were people who would only tell my parents whatever I would say. I went once, feeling too vulnerable to have a proper conversation. I didn’t return.

I was part of a couple youth groups and that was a way to socialise, free of stress and expectations. However, every time the meetings were over, leaving was almost derisive; the feeling of impending doom remained. Having trouble trusting adults already, I wasn’t about to seek help from a teacher or counsellor. Guidance was what I needed, but I didn’t know where to look.

As the senior years rolled around, things got worse.

My family life was on unstable hinges and my personal life was slowly deteriorating. Let’s throw in a toxic relationship too, shall we? The cycle of control continued. He told me to stop talking to certain friends and that I shouldn’t be going to friend’s parties. If I tried to hide it to keep the peace, I’d be questioned and judged for doing so. He’d also belittle my feelings; I eventually stopped sharing them. One night, I remember being on the phone, and he realised I was at a friend’s party. He was furious, almost yelling through the phone. I was ready to throw the damn phone away. But, I was young and naive. I wanted someone to be ‘on my side’, even if that person was more controlling than my parents. Toxic relationships in your teenage years can be so taxing on your mind, body and those around you.  During this time, I had thoughts about self-harm and running away to be free from the control and manipulation.

I was away from school more and more, and my grades were slipping. Teachers began to notice. The year-level coordinator eventually coaxed it out of me, and I told him what was going on in my life. He said that abuse is never okay. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I felt like for the first time, an adult understood what I was going through. Still, because I wasn’t willing to seek further help, the coordinator couldn’t do anything more than listen if ever I felt overwhelmed.

I still felt trapped. Since I couldn’t talk about my emotions, I decided I’d draw them. I was already withdrawn from the outside world, so I may as well take advantage of it. Colours I remember using regularly was black, red and brown. I constantly drew squares and triangles, representing anger, barriers, cages and anything else that expressed feeling ‘imprisoned’. Charcoal was my weapon of choice. I enjoyed the ability to express so much, that I did my Research Project on art as therapy. This subject was the highlight of high school because I felt I could pour my soul into the work, without it feeling like effort. The same could be said about my final art project. I finally found a way to communicate. Perhaps it was my inner rebel triumphing again – always finding a way to survive.

Creativity was a permanent device in my tool-box, ever since. If I was feeling stressed, sad or anxious, I knew I could express it through art. Years on, I understand why my parents were over-bearing. They were trying their best to look out for me. Our conversations tell me they had learned not to be too strict on their younger kids, as it would only push them away. The ex on the other hand… well, he’s still an ex.

These days, I have been learning to speak up. Drawing is great, but to get through this world in life and work, it is important to be able to communicate effectively. To ask for what you want. To stand up, when you’re not being treated fairly. And to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

If you notice a friend is withdrawn, not their usual self, or talks about hardship in a relationship or in their family – support them. They may be experiencing mental health issues or have someone in their life that is emotionally abusive. Even if a friend does not want to share what they’re going through, it is important for them to know that they’re not alone.

Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Withdrawn from family/friends
  • Constantly unable to make small decisions without checking in with their partner/family member
  • Excessively texting/messaging whereabouts
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of confidence
  • Being told they can’t talk to a certain person/group of people for no reason

What I wish I knew: Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Read books about communication and human development to understand what’s going on in your mind and body. Be aware of signs of manipulation and emotional abuse. If you need help, reach out to a trusted confidant or counsellor. There are people out there that are for you, not against you.

Phone and online counselling service: Kidshelpline (ages 5 to 25).
Video on art therapy.
Image by Jacqueline.

I have been where you are.

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Today’s post is about how to tackle stress – from a 24 year old, university student. (Side note: as I write this post, I can see the sun is shining through my blinds. What lovely symbolism!)

Let me explain how things have been lately:

  • I have been sick/on antibiotics and medication constantly
  • The uni break was a BREAK, no revision whatsoever
  • I’ve put tremendous stress on myself in terms of finances

So basically, I’ve been stressed. A light in the clouds has occurred today, though. From time to time, I find myself in a “slump” of recurring sickness/problems. Life is a mix of stress and joy after all. I wanted to share how even though things get shitty, there’s a way through! Below are 3 ways I have used to combat stress. I’m not perfect, but these 3 things have given me skills to handle life’s situations.

 

1. Find your community.

I can’t stress how important it is to find your community/communities. Whether it’s a trusted family member, friendship group, online group, a professional/mentor – find your community! I’ve realised over the last couple of years, although I have loving family and friends and an amazingly supportive partner, I wanted to also surround myself with like-minded individuals from around the world that could push me to be a better person. The first group I ever joined with self-improvement in mind was Millennial Entrepreneur Community (search it if you have a Facebook account). It is a group designed to help troubleshoot business problems, ideas and collaborate with other professionals. This group set a fire in me and constantly does to seek betterment and improvement. To implement ideas and execute with some knowledge and a lot of bravery. Another group I joined recently is called Wild Woman Sisterhood. I wanted to find women who empower each other, support each other and share experiences and advice. In time, I am sure I will be more active in these groups and that alone creates another community on it’s own. Find people you vibe with. Who tell you the truth. Who also support you when it is needed.

 

2. Time out.

Although the ‘teaching break’ is presented as an extra two weeks of studying – I can admit, I did no such thing. Time away from the computer screen, deadlines and hours of reading was the nicest two weeks I have had in a while. I could have definitely fitted in a couple days a week to study but I had pushed myself so much the first couple months, that I had lost complete interest in learning or revising any more. I was overwhelmed. I’m still working on it, and as this is a recurring problem, I know now how important it is to time out! Keeping your mind and body under stress can be harmful. Even if it’s just 10-20 minutes a day or every second day – whatever suits you. Find a relaxing hobby! A few things I enjoy are: taking a walk around the neighbourhood, watching a show with my partner, cooking new recipes, yoga, finding inspiration on YouTube and getting lost in visual art/expression. So remember to take some time for yourself when you can!

 

3. Express your stress. 

Finding people to spur you on and taking a break from the everyday routine is great. In my experience, so is having an outlet for frustration and stress that may arise from many aspects of life: relationships, work, self-depreciation. I approach this by typing it all out in a private blog – word vomit, if you will. Sometimes I write multiple posts.
Other ways I express my stress is being honest. If the conversation arises, I tell my friends/workmates/partner that no, I’m stressed and mad and not in the mood. Usually from this, I find the root of the problem (and apologise for angry outbursts that are in no way personal, just my personal problem).
In some circumstances, I contact a mental health professional. I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to seek professional help if your own solutions are no longer getting you anywhere. It’s important to know who and what organisations to contact if this is the case. I will include contact numbers/websites at the end of this post. Another way I have expressed my stress is at work; asking if shifts are available, making sure all state managers are aware that there is a sales assistant willing to travel for the hours.

“If you never ask, the answer is always no.” – Nora Roberts

With this, comes gratitude. I am so thankful that I’ve found coping mechanisms (courtesy of health professionals, family, friends, a lovely partner) communities and a job where I am appreciated and paid well.

I hope this post is found to be helpful. And as a lovely, warrior woman has said to me, I am passing this on to you:

I have been where you are.

Bad times don’t last forever. Our minds can heal. Our bodies can heal.

You are not alone. If you are experiencing extreme stress and feel you may need assistance, here are some contacts and websites based in Australia:

  • beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636 – depression/anxiety awareness
  • kidshelpline.com.au 1800 55 1800 – private, confidential counselling
  • lifeline.org.au 13 11 14 – crisis support, suicide prevention
  • qlife.org.au 1800 184 527 – LGBTI support site
  • vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 – veteran, war-related support