Self-Care through Boundary Building

Written by: Quamina Carter, MS, LMHC, LCAC

Boundaries are simply limits that protect what is important to us. Boundaries help define acceptable and unacceptable behavior. They are necessary for self-care and in every relationship that we have, if we want them to remain healthy. Unhealthy relationships are fear based. Healthy relationships are built on healthy boundaries, with both partners (professional and personal) accepting and respecting the other. Boundaries may change; over time, from person to person and are influenced by the situation. As a starting point, first identify what you would like to avoid. For me, this is resentment. You may want to practice with a boundary that feels less threatening and perhaps, more tolerable to enforce. Establishing boundaries takes courage, support, and practice.

Boundaries vary in type and can be considered rigid (inflexible), undefined, and clear (consistent).

Be direct in how you communicate your boundaries. As a courtesy, you can offer a calm and firm alternative. Assertive communication can be crafted in a manner that signals what you need in a way that the receiver can openly hear.  Have you heard the statement, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it?” We all have the ability to kindly communicate our needs. Boundary building can initially seem uncomfortable and there are times when the receiver will attempt to negotiate, dismiss your boundary, impose their own expectations, or attempt to manipulate your boundary to benefit their own needs. We each must push beyond any fears or doubts in order to enforce our values through consistency, structure, and discipline. Work hard to preserve this. Seek support from family, friends, clergy, counseling, coaching, and support groups.

We can learn quite a bit from our experiences. If you are aware of behaviors or ways of thinking that could influence your decision making, you should reflect on this and consider if the outcome aligns with your intended results. This takes practice. Also, consider how you were raised and the role you play in your family.  If you are naturally a caretaker, boundary establishment can be challenging. Recall my personal example in wanting to avoid resentment? There are times in my life when I must ask, “Would I rather that you are upset with me, or that I am upset with myself?” This often helps to frame what my limits are for that particular situation and to begin the process of exploring alternative solutions. This is not to imply that I am inflexible, yet that I will assist in ways that are defined by my tolerance to distress and disappointment.

In summary; boundaries ARE present and clear, protective and appropriate. Boundaries are NOT harmful or manipulative. If you have difficulty establishing and maintaining boundaries or would like to explore issues of co-dependency that could be getting in your way, please consider outside help before things become too overwhelming.

Quamina’s professional orientation includes fusions of mindfulness, CBT, emotional freedom and interpersonal / family of origin therapy. Quamina utilizes values clarification in exploring emerging adulthood, lifestyle transitions, identity development, interpersonal relationships and alternative treatments for a holistic lifestyle. Quamina enjoys working with motivated individuals and couples. To learn more about Quamina’s services and how she can meet your family’s needs, email Quamina at or call her at the office at 317-471-8996.