Do I have healthy boundaries?
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are typically associated with property lines: showing where one property ends, and another starts. This is exactly what is meant when we speak about boundaries in a relationship: a boundary is an imaginary line that separates me from you. They help us identify where one person ends and another begins. They are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates for what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They help us ascertain what we are comfortable with and what type of treatment is acceptable to us. They are physical and emotional lines that we don’t want people to cross. Just like we wouldn’t appreciate anyone entering, let alone damaging, our physical property without our permission, we should be preserving ourselves the same way. Creating healthy boundaries are not always easy but it need to start somewhere.
When we consider boundaries, they are normally in relation to those around us. But what it really boils down to is your relationship with YOURSELF.
We need to really get to know ourselves: our goals, priorities, values, needs and feelings.
We need to think about what is important to us, what we are comfortable (and uncomfortable) with: and set these boundaries in place.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY!
People don’t know what they don’t know. Very often boundaries are crossed because the other party may not know that the boundary is there. Sometimes people may even feel they are doing us a favour, but for us, a boundary is being crossed. For example, maybe your neighbour cuts your grass for you thinking they are helping you. But for you, they have come into your physical space and crossed a boundary. It is so important that people are made aware of our boundaries; in this way, we are actively preserving them and ourselves. For example, if one is in a romantic relationship: one needs to be open and honest about what they are and aren’t willing to share and/or do. Regardless of the relationship, communication needs to be on-going and open. This is what makes a healthy relationship. Once these boundaries have been communicated, ‘hey, I didn’t like it when you said…’, it is important that they are respected. If you are afraid to have these conversations, it may be a red flag that your boundaries are already being imposed on. Boundaries are there to respect and protect, not control, or scare or harm.
A boundary should never be to restrict or control anyone; so also, be mindful of boundaries set by others. As our relationships evolve and change with time, you may find your boundaries starting to shift too, and that’s okay. You may not even realise a boundary exists until it has been crossed. That’s why communication needs to be on-going, so that this is made clear. Maybe you grow more confident and comfortable in the relationship and your boundaries are ‘loosened’ or maybe you experience something traumatic or are just going through a tough time and your boundaries ‘tighten’. Let the people in your life know.
They are YOUR boundaries; and if they are not harmful or controlling, they are up to YOU.
Why do we need Healthy boundaries?
Not only do boundaries separate your physical space, but they also separate your feelings, needs, and responsibilities from others. They let people know what is acceptable or not. This way, people cannot take advantage of you, but it is up to us to set and enforce these boundaries. While there are some acts and behaviours that are very clearly right or wrong, there are many things that live in the ‘grey’ area and if not clearly communicated, may be inappropriate or harmful to us and not others.
Boundaries are crucial to our mental health and well-being.
When we set clear boundaries, it allows us to be our true selves without compromising on things that matter most to us. We don’t put other people’s needs ahead of our own well-being. Boundaries allow us to establish an identity and autonomy (independence in one’s thoughts or actions).
Boundaries are a way of taking control of ourselves and our self-care. They mean that we value ourselves and look after ourselves and our feelings.
Boundaries help us to not overdo it by taking on more than we can chew. We say no when something will be more harmful than beneficial. We say no when something doesn’t align with our values and priorities. In this way, boundaries help us prevent burnout.
If we clearly communicate our boundaries and needs, people will be able to treat us in a way that we expect and need. This way, anger, sadness, and resentment won’t be able to grow in a place that it usually would. Boundaries teach other people how to interact with us appropriately.
Boundaries provide physical and emotional safety by keeping out what feels uncomfortable or hurtful.
Sometimes we fail to set boundaries because we have a low self-worth or we are scared about how it may affect the relationship or maybe we are not sure that they will change the situation or we simply don’t know how to go about setting them. How? Communication! Know yourself and communicate these needs. Scared? Ask yourself, ‘What will happen if I do? What will happen if I don’t?’ If there is real fear for your safety in setting boundaries, please seek help. Not sure it will work? The situation will stay as it is anyway if you don’t try, so surely worth a shot? Low self-worth? Set boundaries and you will see just how wonderful you are. Start with one.
It may feel weird and maybe even selfish in the beginning, but it becomes easier and more natural with practice and as you and the person (even if they initially resisted or felt offended) start to see the benefits, both parties will understand and respect their worth.
What are the different types of boundaries?
Boundaries can be emotional, religious, financial, verbal, physical, digital, sexual, material and can apply to time, space, and the workplace too. The golden rule? Whatever the relationship, whatever the setting: if something makes you uncomfortable, there needs to be a boundary put in place.
They apply to any kind of relationship you have – whether with a friend, family member, partner, work colleague, neighbour, or anyone else in your life.
While boundaries are often psychological or emotional, boundaries can also be physical. For example, declining physical contact from a co-worker is setting an important boundary, one that’s just as crucial as setting an emotional boundary, i.e., asking that same co-worker not to make unreasonable demands on your time or emotions.
What are healthy boundaries?
Rigid Boundaries vs Porous Boundaries vs Healthy Boundaries
A person who always keeps others at a distance (whether emotionally, physically, or otherwise) has rigid boundaries. They won’t allow anything or anyone to flow in or out, like having a blocked filter.
Someone with Rigid Boundaries: Avoids intimacy and close relationships. Unlikely to ask for help. Has few close relationships. Very protective of personal information. May seem detached, even with romantic partners. Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejection.
A person who has porous boundaries tends to get too involved with others. People of this boundary type may have a penetrable boundary. They may allow themselves to be manipulated and can suffer the consequences of others.
Someone with Porous Boundaries: Overshares personal information. Difficulty saying “no” to the requests of others. Overinvolved with other’s problems. Dependent on the opinions of others. Accepting of abuse or disrespect. Fears rejection if they do not comply with others.
People with healthy boundaries generally resist compromising their values for others’.
Someone with Healthy Boundaries: Values own opinions. Doesn’t compromise values for others. Shares personal information in an appropriate way (does not over or under share). Knows personal wants and needs and can communicate them. Accepting when others say “no” to them.
What makes a boundary healthy or appropriate relies heavily on the relationship and setting. For example, you wouldn’t have the same physical boundaries with your romantic partner as you would a co-worker. Just like you wouldn’t speak to your friend the same way you do in a business meeting. Most people experience a range of boundaries; for example, they may be rigid in their romantic relationship but porous with friends. Evaluate the boundaries you have in each of your relationships and in each of your day-to-day settings by doing this boundaries questionnaire.