A simple definition of a boundary is anything that marks a border and is, in personal terms, a line that denotes the limit of a subject, principle or relationship.
As guidelines, personal boundaries are rules or expectations created by an individual to recognise, limit and frame how they respond to other peoples’ behaviour towards them. They are formed from a combination of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning. Personal boundaries help to distinguish an individual by delineating likes and dislikes and setting the emotional distances which one allows others to approach. Boundaries are vital for healthy relationships and above all a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a learnable skill.
Why are boundaries vital?
Healthy boundaries are an essential element of self-care. Without boundaries, we can feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, exhausted and or imposed upon. Whether it’s in personal relationships or the workplace poor boundaries may result in feelings of resentment, hurt or anger, and possible burnout.
Healthy boundaries give us permission to say NO to things and not take everything on. They provide clear perimeters indicating what is ok for us and what is not. We all have different comfort levels when it comes to acceptable behaviour. When someone behaves in a way that doesn’t sit well and makes up uncomfortable we need let them know in order to take care of ourselves by letting them know, making that boundary much clearer.
Some Aspects of Unhealthy Boundaries can be:
- Sharing too much too soon or, closing yourself off and failing to express your needs and wants.
- Feeling responsible for others’ happiness.
- Establishing how you feel about yourself by the way others treat you.
- Deferring to others to make decisions on your behalf, resulting in feelings of powerlessness, resentment or an inability to take responsibility for your own life.
- A poor sense of your own identity.
Heathy Boundaries allow for:
- Information to be shared gradually, promoting a trusting relationship.
- Physical and emotional space from intrusion.
- Mutually equal partnerships with shared responsibility.
- Confidence to be honest with the ability to say yes or no.
- Acceptance others say no to you.
- Separation of your needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires from those of others and recognition boundaries and needs may be different from yours.
- Leave to make healthy choices and take responsibility for yourself leading to higher self-esteem and self-respect.
Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable. Others may resist if you say no to some things or try communicating your needs more clearly. They may try testing your limits, to see how determined you are or they may be accustomed to you responding in a certain way (agreeing to take on everything), and they may push back when you try to effect changes. You are not doing something wrong or unfair. If you continue to be clear and consistent others will adjust to your new way of relating to them.
When redefining or creating boundaries with potentially, volatile, physically dangerous or threatening individuals, it may not be safe to attempt to set rigid boundaries. If you are in a difficult or unsafe situation, it can be helpful to work with a counsellor, therapist or advocate to create a safety plan and discuss how to negotiate boundaries.