The concept of boundaries is something I have explored many times in my life. My tendency has always vacillated between having no boundaries at all or to constructing metaphorical walls to keep others out. I found myself being either too available or completely shut off and disconnected. This has played out in many relationships and I continue to see it as a pattern in my life.
Recently, with the guidance of several wise people in my inner circle, I have redefined what boundaries mean to me and why I want to have healthy ones. In order to arrive at this new point of view, I had to explore the following questions: What are healthy boundaries? Why do we need them and how do we establish and maintain them?
Boundaries are your physical, mental and emotional limits. Boundaries indicate what is and what is not acceptable in your life. They are completely unique to each one of us and don’t need to be similar or aligned to anyone else’s. Having boundaries allows us to define ourselves according to our own needs and wants versus being defined by others and their needs and wants. Healthy boundaries are a part of your unique identity. Your boundaries do not have to meet anyone else’s expectations. Only you can know your own needs, desires and values. All healthy relationships have boundaries.
Boundaries are important because:
- Having healthy boundaries is essential to maintaining healthy relationships.
- Boundaries are a sign of self-respect, self-worth and self-approval.
- People who have weak boundaries are more likely to violate the boundaries of others, causing more problems in their relationships.
- When boundaries are weak or undefined, it is easy to absorb feelings, standards, ideas, energy etc that are not your own. It is akin to allowing ourselves to be defined by others, versus defining ourselves by our own standards and ethics.
- When we have healthy boundaries we are more stable and in control of our lives.
Setting healthy boundaries in our relationships does not mean we don’t love the people in our life. It does mean that we love and honor ourselves, which is a requirement to love and honor others. We can’t give to others, what we can’t give to ourselves. Putting ourselves first and caring for ourselves needs to be a priority if we are going to be effective with others . It is important to recognize that other peoples needs and feelings are not more important than our own and that if we prioritize others at the expense of ourselves, we are doing everyone a disservice. We can’t serve others if we are drained and depleted.
Some signs that boundaries are out of balance include:
- Inability to say no to others or feeling guilty when you do say no
- Regular feelings of resentment towards those people with which you do not have healthy boundaries
- Compromising personal values to please others
- Expecting others to fulfill your needs
- Not standing up for yourself when you are treated with disrespect
- Falling apart so someone can take care of you
- Completely shutting other people out of your life
Unless you were blessed enough to have a completely functional family where you were raised with both parents establishing and respecting healthy boundaries and encouraging you to do the same, you will probably find yourself struggling with boundaries as well. Establishing and maintaining boundaries is a skill that can be learned with practice. This may be challenging and uncomfortable at first, however with time, it will become second nature.
5 Steps to Establishing and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries:
- Identify your boundaries: Take some time to establish what your limits are physically, mentally and emotionally. Think about what is tolerable to you and what makes you feel uncomfortable. Take this into consideration in relationship to friends, family, significant others, colleagues and anyone else that you interact with on a daily basis. Note that your boundaries may vary considerably across different relationships.
- Let go: Release any preconceived notions of how you should be in relationship to others and what boundaries are or are not OK to have. Remember that your boundaries are unique to you and you are 100% entitled to have those boundaries that allow you to feel comfortable and happy in your relationships.
- Communicate lovingly: Let other’s know your needs and limits around situations. Since everyone’s boundaries are different, there’s no way someone might know when they are crossing yours if they haven’t been informed of where they are. In the same vein, be curious about the boundaries of your loved ones. It is important to know what they are so you can take care to honor and respect them.
- Maintain them: If you are feeling uncomfortable about a situation or request, your boundaries are probably being pushed or even crossed. Two emotions that very clearly point to a boundary violation are discomfort and resentment. It is important to communicate to others when they have crossed your boundaries. I find one of the most effective ways of doing this is through Nonviolent Communication . If someone is angry or disappointed with you for having your boundaries, the problem is theirs. Do not make it yours.
- Take Care of Yourself:If someone repeatedly violates your boundaries after you have clearly stated them, the best solution is to limit your exposure to that person until they are able to respect your boundaries.
I still struggle with boundaries on a regular basis, yet I am committed to improving in this area of my life. If you find yourself struggling with boundaries, I hope you will join me on this journey.
© Copyright 2015 Vanessa Naja/Holistic Moving