Boundaries are your values, expectations, principles, or limits that you establish to keep yourself feeling safe physically, emotionally, and mentally. Setting healthy boundaries is permitting yourself to be you. It communicates to everyone what you stand for, what you are willing to do, and what you will never do.
In this article, I will talk about everything you need to know about boundaries and how to set them.
Building boundaries goes against our innate human desire to be loved and accepted, so we ignore building them. It is not easy to set and communicate our boundaries, but they are essential ingredients for our health, relationships, and safety. Boundaries give us a sense of power and control over our physical space, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
There Are Three Kinds Of Boundaries:
Physical Boundaries: primarily referring to rules that define personal space and the physical body, such as hugs, touch, handshake, etc.
Mental Boundaries: they are intangible and harder to define, they are our thoughts, values, opinions, and knowledge.
Emotional Boundaries: they are intangible and can be felt, they are our feelings and emotions.
What Is The Purpose Of Boundaries?
In the physical world, boundaries are easy to observe, touch, and feel. Your bedroom has a door. Your backyard has a fence. Your city has a city-limits and so on. Physical boundaries have different shapes and looks, but they all communicate the same message: this is my property, there are rules, and this is how I expect you to behave if you cross my property lines. Once people cross your property lines, it becomes your responsibility for what happens on your property.
In relationships, these lines are not physical, and they are not visible. You have to exert a lot more effort to define your boundaries and to protect them. What is a rule of thumb when it comes to your boundaries? Keep bad things out and let good things in. Boundaries enable you to draw a line between you and other people. They differentiate between ownership and responsibility.
In his bestselling book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Clout explains that “Boundaries show you where you end someone else begins.” Setting boundaries is healthy and a sign of responsibility. When you set boundaries, you express your respect to yourself, others, your time, and your talents.
How Are Boundaries Demolished?
For you to create great boundaries, you have to be able to say no to people and to hold held them accountable. It is not easy to tell your family or boss “no”, but you have to learn how to say “no” firmly but respectfully. You also have to be able to see people make mistakes or even fail. Our first instinct is to jump in and help others, but we have to resist the urge to save everyone. People need to fail so they can learn.
Inability To Say No
If you are unable to say “no”, you will have a hard time defining your boundaries. For you to build boundaries, you need to resign from your self-assigned job as the world Chief Happiness Officer. It is your responsibility to treat people with love and kindness, but it is not your responsibility to make people feel a certain way.
Your “no” may cause some discomfort and you need to be comfortable with that. “No” to other people often means “yes” to yourself, and it can be an improvement opportunity for the other party. Your “no” is your boundary, so use it wisely. If I ask you to help me with a project, and you told me “no”, it shows respect for your own time, and I can use it as an opportunity to manage my time better.
Inability To Watch People Fail
If you try to rescue everyone around you from their own mistakes, you are not helping them. You are setting them up for failure. You are interfering with one of the most powerful laws of nature. People should fail if they do not put in an adequate effort to succeed. The outcome of most situations is dependent on the effort that you exert, and the time you invest.
If you see someone who is failing, and you know that he or she did not put the adequate effort in to succeed, let them fail. Rescuing them from failure is cruel. They need to learn that the outcome is closely related to the effort and the time they invest. If we keep feeling responsible for other people’s results, we prevent them from growing.
Boundaries In Relationships
For any relationship to be successful, both parties have to be happy. It is your responsibility to make yourself happy before attempting to make your partner happy. Boundaries help you accomplish that task. Boundaries define your responsibilities and emotional needs.
People like to be in relationships to feel safe, loved, and valued. Setting boundaries go against these human desires and needs. We worry that boundaries create friction and confrontation. These are two things that any couple tries to avoid. In his, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni mentions that avoiding confrontation and friction prevents any relationship from reaching its true potential. Engaging in healthy conflicts that are based on love and respect leads to discomfort, stress, and growth. You cannot reach growth if you avoid discomfort and stress.
Dr. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall wrote an article about the importance of conflict in healthy relationships titled “Why Conflict Is Healthy for Relationships.” In the article, Dr. Hall outlined three things you need to know about communicating consciously in any conflict. They help to harness the good that can come from disagreement; conflicts signal a need for change, keep both partners independent, and uncover other areas that couple needs to improve.
Do not worry that boundaries create conflicts, it is your responsibility to hold your partner accountable, and to respect your spouse’s boundaries.
Hold Your Spouse Accountable
When you hold your spouse accountable, consider three things: you, him/her, and us. How does the issue seem to you? How does it seem to them? What does it mean for the relationship? Do not exchange accusation, exchange information without blaming each other. You can say something like this “I love you and I accept who you are. I just want to make you aware of how your behavior is impacting my emotions. I like to know how you came to this conclusion.”
You should hold your spouse accountable and bring the best out of them. Do it kindly, do not light a fire under them. Light a fire inside of them and they will know what to do to resolve the issue. Respecting the way you feel is an important boundary that needs to be respected.
Boundaries Communicate A Need
If your spouse is communicating about a boundary that you were not aware of, he or she is communicating a need. There are unmet needs that should be addressed. Marriage does not give you the right to restrict your spouse’s freedom or deny his or her emotional needs. If he or she is complaining of feeling restricted and wants to create a boundary, you need to understand that your spouse does not feel themselves in the relationship.
Having boundaries protect you from being hurt and allow you to think freely. Boundaries protect you from being hurt and from hurting your spouse. Once you know your spouse’s boundaries, you can respect them and avoid future conflicts. It is unwise to think that you can shift your spouse’s boundaries to make yourself happier. If you are unhappy about a boundary, you need to discuss it with your spouse without forcing them to change.
On the other hand, if you allow other people to cross your boundary to keep the peace, you are setting yourself up for failure. Denying your own needs to make other people happy will lead to a joyless life. It is your responsibility to communicate your feelings to your spouse, and it is their responsibility to communicate theirs. Do not attempt to decipher their behavior, when you are in doubt, ask them to clarify.
How To Set Boundaries
If you have a hard time establishing boundaries, I will mention five steps to help you create stronger boundaries. If you use these steps, you will be happier in your relationships. Creating stronger boundaries is the number one way for you to improve your life.
1- What Are Your Rights?
Dr. Judith Belmont encourages her clients to set their boundaries by asking themselves one big question: What is my right? You have the right to say no without feeling guilty, to be treated with respect, to be safe, to declare your needs, to be accepted, to refuse other people’s expectations of you. These rights should always be your top priority when you are setting boundaries, and you can add any need that is important to you.
2- Listen to Your Body
If you think someone is violating your personal space, say something. If you feel unsafe about a situation, do something. If you notice that your fists are clenched, get out of that space. If your first instinct is to freeze, fight, or flight, find a safe way to retreat from the situation.
3- Define Your Values
Having a set of personal values will make it easier for you to set boundaries. Values are your strongly held beliefs about what is valuable and important to you. Your values will guard you against temptations. Your values determine what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable.
4- Define What Needs To Change
Once you gained insight into what boundaries are being crossed and what rights are being violated, ask the other person to respect your boundaries and communicate to them what needs to be changed immediately. You can say this, “ I do no appreciate you invading my personal space and asking me to make a decision right now, I need you to step back and give me some time to think about this situation.”
5- Choose The Time To Discuss Your Boundaries
Boundaries need to be discussed early and often in any relationship. When you talk about boundaries, remove all distractions and discuss them with kindness.
Boundaries To Think About
- Me-Time: Protect your time, modern life demands can be overwhelming, so you need to be intentional about having time to think, understand your feelings, and examine your behavior. It allows you to reduce your stress level, recharge your brain, improve your decision making, improve your relationships, and set healthier boundaries.
- Communication: How often should you communicate during the day? Method of communication? Be open as much as you can with your partner. Talk to them about your friends, job, skills, finances, feelings, and thoughts. If you have secrets, you are not open enough with your partner.
- Digital Boundaries: Should your partner have access to your phone? What about your emails? What are you willing to share on social media? Discuss with your loved ones: communications apps, tracking apps, calendars apps, Facebook engagement rules, and anything that has to do with your digital boundaries.
- Physical Boundaries: Identify your private space and do not allow people to access it. If you are hiding private items in a locked drawer, do not allow anyone to question your decision.
- Mental Boundaries: If someone is forcing you to think a certain way, look to the exit door. This kind of abuse includes any attempt to frighten, control, or isolate you. No one should be allowed to tell you that your dreams are worthless.
- Emotional Boundaries: Emotional boundaries are about respecting and honoring your feelings and other people’s feelings. Do not ask people to justify the way they feel, or assume the way they feel. Respect their feeling without criticizing or dismissing them.
- Time Boundaries: Time is your most valuable resource, protect and use it wisely. Setting time boundaries shows that you value your time and understand your priorities.
- Sexual Boundaries: Healthy sexual boundaries include consent, agreement, understanding of preference and desires, and privacy. This can be a very difficult boundary to talk about, but it is critical to talk about it before someone crosses the line.
- Financial Boundaries: money is an inescapable part of any human interactions. Discuss your financial boundaries to avoid issues in the future.
Next week, I will talk about how to build boundaries at work.
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