The Many Benefits of Boundaries

By: Vicki A. Santos, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The concept of boundaries is very useful in working with people in distress. It’s guided me in determining where to begin therapeutic work and what the next step might be in the helping process. Boundaries have helped many of my clients establish or reclaim healthier lifestyles. I’ve seen the use of healthy boundaries enable clients to build strong, well-rounded identities. Boundary work is often the foundation of therapy work.

As a psychologist, I sometimes see people at their worst. They come into my office and have a major complaint or two or three that they want to get fixed. The question becomes “Where do we begin?” and it’s not always easy to determine. Boundaries help determine what a person is responsible for and what they are not responsible for. As we clear away what the person isn’t responsible for, we are left with the things that can be addressed by the person. Often, the “hot mess” then becomes a hopeful situation. Boundaries help clarify situations for both the client and the therapist.

Boundaries include saying “no” and “stop” which are words many people have trouble saying in the midst of conflict. Being able to say “I won’t allow you to abuse me anymore” is a major milestone for some people. Other people have to learn how to say “No, I don’t want that drink” or “I can’t be the one who keeps bailing you out of trouble.” By saying these things, a person begins setting boundaries and changing their life for the better.  

As people begin to get healthier, they can better decide what’s important to them and what they want to exclude and include in their life. Some boundaries are firm and keep harmful things at a distance. Some boundaries are flexible and allow enjoyment of healthy things at the appropriate time in the appropriate situation.

Boundaries are defining, clarifying, and empowering. The book I most recommend to people is Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Having good boundaries provides a healthy roadmap for getting through this sometimes messy journey we call life.