Boundaries are essential to our physical and mental health. And yet, they are rarely discussed in everyday conversation. This post is to put the concept of boundaries on your radar, and into your vocabulary and to encourage you to learn as much as you can about them.
Boundaries can be physical, mental, emotional, or even functional. At essence, a boundary is the line between you and everything else. To have good boundaries means that you maintain a truthful view of yourself. You know how you are distinct from others and honor that. Additionally, you take responsibility for all that is yours, from the state of your body, to your thoughts, your emotions, your skill sets, and the way you perform in life.
Bad boundaries allow numerous problems to occur. For example, weak boundaries allow one person to tolerate mistreatment from another. Another kind of weak boundary allows one person to blame others for their problems. Bad boundaries produce abuse, resentment, chronic victims, pleasers, controllers, bullies, the overcommitted, enablers, entitled freeloaders, martyrs and guilt trippers… The list is endless.
Boundaries are established as we grow up and have life experiences. We may learn from experience that standing up to a bully causes them to leave us alone. Or we may learn that it makes the situation worse. We may learn from parents that misbehavior has clear consequences, or we may learn that we can get away with anything. We may learn that when we apologize, it is accepted and life goes on. Or, we may get a never ending stream of resentment. All these types of things can affect the integrity of our boundaries.
Those who have suffered abuse have particularly damaged boundaries. They tend to tolerate much more mistreatment than they should. In fact they may not even know to classify mistreatment as mistreatment since they do not even know what healthy relationships look like. To them, an abusive relationship is sadly normative. And since boundaries are like fences in that they have gates, abused people have trouble with gates as well. Is particular, abused people often shut out those trying to help.
Few people have perfectly healthy boundaries. To have healthy boundaries, one has to be aware they even exist, if only on an intuitive level. To really understand them requires examples. Having healthy boundaries is about setting limits for oneself. While it is not about setting limits for others, it is about setting limits on what one will tolerate from others. Likewise, it is not about reacting to others. Rather, it is about communicating clearly specifically directly and honestly from a first person point of view ( "I statements") and giving responsible feedback to others.
We all need to be aware of our personal boundaries and how to keep them healthy.
- First is to realize boundaries exist.
- Second, we must realize we have an innate right to maintain our boundaries.
- Third we must become self aware of our own thoughts and feelings regarding what we are comfortable or uncomfortable with in ourselves and others.
- Fourth, we must be honest and realistic about our needs, and employ self care to meet them.
- Fifth we must be willing to enforce our boundaries if they are violated. This is done for the long term good, but we must realize that in the short term it may cause conflict.
- Sixth, we must reach out for support and knowledge as we strive for healthy boundaries. This is because we are trying to learn that which, by definition, we did not know before. It is also because we may encounter resistance from those who encroached on our boundaries before. Sometimes, this requires professional counseling or a supervised support group.
Healthy boundaries are critical to our self respect, integrity and optimal functioning. Here is some great reading to learn more: