Why boundaries are important in eating disorder recovery

Each week, Orri’s treatment programme changes according to the progress and needs of our clients. Lately, we’ve been discussing boundaries; what it means to develop healthy boundaries and how they can positively impact your day-to-day life. Below is a quick summary of what you need to know.

Firstly, what are boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves within relationships; be they friendships, romantic relationships, or relationships with family members. They are the rules we decide to live by that help us remain safe and secure as we navigate our daily lives. They are developed based upon the messages, beliefs and experiences we receive and internalise as we grow up through childhood into adulthood.

A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” when needed and protect themselves emotionally and physically. Some people may have rigid boundaries – keeping people at a distance – and others may have porous boundaries where their decisions rely heavily on others’ thoughts and opinions. It’s possible that one person could have a mix of boundary types depending upon whether they’re at work, at home or with a romantic partner.

Someone suffering with an eating disorder may find that they have boundaries that are deliberately rigid so to protect the eating disorder. By maintaining rigid boundaries, we keep people at a distance; avoiding intimacy and close relationships and often feeling unwilling to ask for help.

So why are healthy boundaries important?

Boundaries keep you safe

Healthy boundaries mean that you don’t compromise your values for others. You are aware of what’s important to you and can identify when your values are being tested and respond in a direct way to protect yourself. You may have physical boundaries that refer to personal space and touch, intellectual boundaries around thoughts and ideas, emotional boundaries referring to yours and others’ feelings, sexual boundaries for sexuality, material boundaries for money and possessions, and time boundaries for how one uses their time.

Boundaries help you to prioritise your needs

We develop healthy boundaries when we have a strong sense of what our individual needs are and how we will meet them in a safe and secure way. We are also able to prioritise these needs by communicating them to others, and knowing what we need from other people in different areas of our lives.

Boundaries create trusting and secure relationships

Healthy boundaries mean being true to yourself. When we’re true to ourselves and feel secure in the knowledge of our personal values and needs, we can enter into relationships that reflect those values and naturally respond to those needs. It also means that we can accept when others say “no” without fearing rejection, and will not stand for abuse or disrespect in relationships.

What you can do to develop healthy boundaries:

  1. Give yourself permission to tune into your feelings within different settings in your life
  2. Practice self-awareness and consider your past and present experiences and how they may dictate your decisions in the now
  3. Name your limits by starting small and being direct – assertion takes practice
  4. Reach out for support and guidance from specialist therapists

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