Therapists Spill: How I Set & Sustain Boundaries

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

They prioritize their needs.

As a wife and mom of six, Hibbert knows very well that if she doesn’t respond to her own needs, they won’t get met. She typically says: “This is what I need right now. I’m sorry I can’t agree to what you need,” or “Yes, I know this is what you wish would happen. I love you. And, no.”

They delegate.

For Marter, a big obstacle in setting boundaries is being spread too thin. So she delegates as much as possible. “At both work and home, I delegate the tasks I am not good at, don’t enjoy or don’t feel are worth my time.”

She’s found that it’s usually a win-win for everyone. Delegating provides work and learning opportunities for her employees, interns, vendors and even her kids. “It promotes their development and lightens my load.”

They remind themselves of the importance of boundaries.

Saying no to someone can trigger twinges of guilt. And therapists also struggle with feelings of guilt. “I have found it hard to prioritize some friendships over others but I have learned that time is precious and best spent with those who fill my ‘cup,’ rather than empty it. I sometimes struggle with guilt around this, but remind myself of the saying, “if you spend your life pleasing others, you spend your life,” Marter said.

Hibbert has realized that it’s easier to communicate her needs and set boundaries than deal with “the aftermath of not listening to my heart. My heart never leads me astray.”

Psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, has a similar perspective. He said:

It might feel good to avoid the conflict now, but in a little while, when I’m doing something I don’t have the resources for or interest in, I’m going to be miserable, angry at myself, and possibly resentful toward my well-meaning friend.

Better to suffer through a pinch of disappointment now instead of a relationship-threatening gash of resentment later.

They may offer an alternative.

When sticking to his boundaries, Howes is honest and polite, and usually offers an alternative. For instance, if his friend wants to go to dinner, but Howes would rather relax at home, he might say: “Thanks, but I’m bushed and really need some couch potato time tonight. How about lunch on Friday?”

They don’t confuse being needed with being loved.

Some people take on the role of martyr because it helps them feel important and needed, said Howes, also author of the blog “In Therapy.” Yet doing so only leaves individuals exhausted, stressed out and depleted. It also breeds codependency.

“If you try meeting your own needs first, including the need for rest and recreation, and then give from your excess time and energy, you’ll find you give better quality with a better attitude.”

 

If you have a hard time setting boundaries, several therapists suggested the Christian book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It is “an excellent resource for the boundary-challenged, and has helped many people regardless of their religious affiliation,” Howes said.

Again, boundaries are necessary for building healthy relationships. They give both people the opportunity to honor themselves and attend to their needs. For therapy clients boundaries help them focus on their own concerns and grow.

Boundaries also are individual, which means that it’s important to know your values and priorities. Then these values and priorities can guide your actions.

 

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2013). Therapists Spill: How I Set & Sustain Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/therapists-spill-how-i-set-sustain-boundaries/00017954
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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Oct 2013
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