Setting Boundaries - Reflections Counselling Lincoln - Counselling and Psychotherapy in Lincoln
Setting boundaries - Reflections Counselling Lincoln - Jane Travis

I was watching something on TV, and they said:

'The truth is like a toothbrush - you only share it with people you trust'.

And I thought 'Eew! I'd NEVER share a toothbrush!'

But some people do, and they don't mind doing it!

Which is fine, we're all different​, and we all have different boundaries.

The trick is KNOWING those boundaries and enforcing them, so when someone visits me and has forgotten their toothbrush, they will get a firm 'EEW NO!' when they ask to borrow mine!​

Knowing how I feel about sharing my toothbrush is clear, but how do I work out other boundaries in life?​


What is a boundary, anyway?​

We've all heard about the importance of boundaries, but do you really know what it means?

Wikipedia says

'Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards him or her and how they will respond when someone steps past those limits'

A boundary is a line in the sand, and you won't tolerate it being stepped over. There will be consequences. ​

Boundaries help you to protect yourself from the manipulative and unscrupulous among us, and maintaining your boundaries will keep you safe. ​

By saying no to unwanted requests, you are keeping those boundaries firm and not allowing people to take advantage of you, meaning you conserve your energy reserves for things (and people) that matter to you.​

What does this mean in practice?​

Imagine you have a puppy and you don't train him. He's chewing things, stealing food, jumping up at people, does exactly as he wants. Nightmare, right?​

He's not been taught boundaries, and so doesn't know what's expected of him.

It's not his fault, he simply doesn't know any better.

But there are consequences for the pup - he's always in trouble, but he has no idea why.

How confusing is that?

​When the puppy's trained, you're letting him know the boundaries - that he can’t sleep on your bed, for example.

The reason - when he sleeps on your bed, you don’t get a good nights sleep. Or you want to keep your bedroom as your special place without doggy smells or dog hair.

So you train him to sleep in a designated place downstairs, and that if he goes upstairs he’ll be in trouble.

Keeping these boundaries firm aren’t cruel or unfair, quite the opposite. He knows exactly what is expected of him, and that there are consequences if he oversteps the mark.

He feels safe and secure in these boundaries.

But if you sometimes let the hi sleep on your bed and sometimes not, he'll be confused. The times he’s not allowed to, he thinks he’s done something wrong.

Hazy boundaries cause confusion and stress.

It's not about right or wrong, it's about what's right or wrong for you.

Your boundaries are unique to you.

For example, how much alone time do you need?

For me, if I don’t get a couple of nights to myself a week, I get twitchy and grumpy: it’s how I recharge my batteries.

So if I need a night to myself I have no problem saying no to requests because it’s important to me.

How to start a journal - step by step instructions for starting a journal, including 7 different methods and questions for reflection

Knowing your boundaries​

Think of it like this: If you're getting a new flatmate, what would be the rules for living with you?

Think about noise levels, friends coming over, bathroom sharing, nudity, cleaning, sharing food etc.

If these boundaries are set out clearly at the outset, it prevents problems later on. Then if you have a no sharing rule on food but you notice they're using your cheese, it’s a lot easier to sort out.

The more you know and keep your boundaries, the less stress you will feel and the higher the likelihood of contentment and happiness.

The clearer your #boundaries are, the less #stress you'll have

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Some boundaries you won't have to think about - borrowing my toothbrush, for example. Some may take more thought.

Let's consider some...

There are 6 boundaries:

1. Material​

What material boundaries do you have: what are you prepared to give, lend or share?

  • Your toothbrush?
  • Your Car?
  • Your clothes?
  • Your money?
  • Your house?

I had a friend ​that never quite had enough money, so I would pay for the coffee, I would pay for the taxi, I would pay for the cinema. Then, I'd notice the fabulous new boots they were wearing, or be told about the holiday they just booked, and I realised - they did have money, but they close to spend it all on luxuries, leaving them short for day to day expenses.

I decided to stop picking up the tab and get my own new boots.​

2. Emotional

​Emotional boundaries enable you to separate your own feelings from someone elses and not take responsibility for them.

  • Do you only feel happy when your partner is happy?
  • Do you get involved in drama, trying to sort it out even when you aren't involved?
  • If someone's upset, do you feel it's your responsibility to make them feel better?
  • Do you feel guilty even when you've done nothing wrong?
  • Do you overshare and tell people too much about things that aren't their business?
  • Are you in tune with your own feelings?

​3. Physical​

Physical boundaries are about your personal space and privacy.

  • Do you keep the bathroom door firmly bolted when in the bath?
  • Do you shudder at the thought of a hug from a stranger?
  • How do you feel about public displays of affection?
  • How much time alone do you need?
  • How much sleep do you need?

4. Mental​​

Mental boundaries apply to your thoughts, values and opinions, your sense of right and wrong and your political stance.

How aware are you of your opinions and beliefs? And how likely are you to change these when with someone that has different opinions?

5. Sexual​​

What sexual touch is okay, with whom, when, where and how often. What is your sexual orientation?

Knowing what isn't right for you means you can clearly say no, and not allow yourself to be persuaded to do something you aren't comfortable with. ​

6. Spiritual​​

What are your spiritual beliefs?

  • Do you believe in life after death?
  • Do you believe in a higher existence?
  • Do you have a faith?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?

Clear. well defined boundaries make's life so much easier - easier to say no, easier to share your opinion, easier to let go of responsibility for other people and easier to just be you and be happy.

Boundaries quote, Jane Travis, Reflections Counselling Lincoln

The best boundaries are firm, but not immovable.

Things change, and we change. It's okay for boundaries to change or be renegotiated.

Give some thought to your boundaries - the clearer they are, the better for everyone.

Journaling will help, and if you need some help getting started 'How to start a journal' will walk you through the whole process.

And draw that line in the sand!​

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About the Author Jane

Jane Travis is a qualified and experienced counsellor and clinical supervisor in the Lincoln area. She has been working at Reflections Counselling Lincoln since 2005. She also helps other counsellors and therapists market and grow their private practices at

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