Successful relationships all have one thing in common; healthy boundaries. If we were to define boundaries as drawing a line under a particular behaviour that makes us uncomfortable or simply having a set of principles on how we would like others to treat us, then it’s clear that having identifiable, realistic, attainable boundaries is the driver behind many successful relationships.
If you have difficulty standing up for yourself or saying ‘no’ and tend to veer towards people-pleasing then it’s likely that you have weak boundaries. Either way, it’s important, if we want to cultivate fulfilling relationships with the people in our lives, that we know what our boundaries are (and that we stick to them!).
Different Types of Boundaries
Boundaries typically cover the following five areas:
- Emotional Boundaries: Those with healthy boundaries understand that they are not responsible for the feelings and emotions of others. People with healthy boundaries are able to separate their emotions from other people’s without taking blame or assuming responsibility. Emotional boundaries can help us to honour our feelings, they also allow us to stick to our beliefs and stay in alignment with our true selves. When you or another person becomes highly reactive, this often denotes weak boundaries. Healthy boundaries are, essentially, clear internal boundaries that an individual is able to assert in their external life.
- Mental Boundaries: These are associated with our beliefs, thoughts and values. Are you capable of handling others’ opinions even if they differ from yours? Are you aware of your own beliefs and capable of sticking to them? Mental boundaries help us to stay true to ourselves and what we believe in (even around strong characters). If you find that you become defensive, argumentative, or emotionally charged around others’, then it’s likely you have weak mental and emotional boundaries.
- Physical Boundaries: Physical boundaries relate to our body, personal space and privacy. Are you comfortable shaking hands or hugging someone you’ve just met? How do you feel about someone sitting on your lap? These are all associated with our personal space and levels of comfort. Broken boundaries are easily identified by how a person feels in any given moment. Essentially, boundaries are the way we feel about a person, situation or thing and how comfortable we are in those situations.
- Sexual Boundaries: This asserts our rights and protects our comfort level of how to interact sexually with another person. Essentially, we all have the right to say yes or no to sexual intimacy. We also have the right to state what we are and are not comfortable with.
- Spiritual Boundaries: Spiritual boundaries relate to our connection to God, the Universe or something of a higher power.
Sticking to boundaries can prove challenging for a lot of people especially those with a tendency to:
- People -please
- Believe that they don’t have rights
- Fear that having boundaries might compromise their relationships
- Forget or abandon their boundaries in social situations
- Never bother learning what their boundaries are since they never really had them
You Have The Right
Individuals whose basic needs were not adequately met in childhood, often have weak boundaries (if any at all!). Co-dependents and people with addiction disorders tend to have a hard time asserting boundaries with others.
In the scientific world of Psychology, the belief is that boundaries set the foundations for self-love and that a boundary in itself is a way for people to create emotional distance from others and helps them to adopt a mindset that prevents others from harming them in any way. Essentially, boundaries set the tone for healthy relationships. A good example of a healthy boundary might be respecting your siblings’ privacy by not entering his or her bedroom unless they say so.
Or perhaps someone is not comfortable with personal displays of affection in public, and so they would need to communicate that clearly. Personal space is another big one. Some people might prefer to be alone at times which is often a way for them to preserve their mental health.
Bottom line: We all have the right to honour our feelings and assert our boundaries in a way that is comfortable and fair without causing conflict or compromising our relationships.
When someone violates our boundaries in any way this can often be a frustrating and painful experience. Boundary violations might be intentional or unintentional and it can often be impossible to distinguish between the two!
Boundary violators are often:
- Suffering some kind of personality disorder such as narcissism
- People who hold some kind of power such as a boss or person of authority
Things to ask yourself when someone breaks a boundary or violates you in any way, shape or form might be:
- Have I been clear about my boundaries with others
- How long has this behaviour been going on
- Who is the person violating my boundaries, boss, husband, friend, etc
There are plenty of other things to consider – for example, is the person being violated a minor? Has the person done the violating been aggressive in any way? At the other end of the scale, we might need to get completely honest with ourselves and explore our own consistency with boundary setting.
Either way, having our personal boundaries violated is not OK, and nobody should have to put up with behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable.
There are several things you can do when you think someone has pushed your boundaries too far:
- Keep a journal and write down your feelings (this might include new boundaries)
- Continue to set clear, consistent boundaries with the people around you
- Accept that not everyone will respect your boundaries and detach from the outcome
- Continue to reflect on your boundaries and practise self-care
- Consider cutting contact with those who you feel do not respect you
Those with weak boundaries (or those who lack them entirely) very often share several common traits which usually manifests as them:
- Having a weak sense of self and modifying their behaviour around others to ‘fit in’
- Not sticking up for themselves when they are treated poorly by others
- Going out of their way to please everyone else (while ignoring their own needs)
- Taking too much, or giving too much, such as energy, time, money, and so forth
- Accepting behaviour they are not comfortable with such as verbal, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
Healthy Boundary Setting
Those who are high in empathy, or people with addictive -personalities, and especially the people-pleasers among us could all benefit from setting healthy boundaries. There’s no hard and fast rule on this either. Generally, being clear and concise about how you expect to be treated by others (and vice versa) is usually a good place to start.
Here are several ways to help you start putting some healthy boundaries in place immediately:
Practice setting boundaries
It’s likely that you will be confronted with uncomfortable feelings when you first start putting boundaries in place, so the best way to overcome this is with practice. Most people feel ashamed or guilty when they first say ‘no’ to someone or when they first stand their ground, while others might fear rejection from those that they love.
The most important thing to remember is that those who truly love us for who we are will respect our feelings, plain and simple!
It’s an unfortunate fact that not everyone is going to respect our feelings and honour our boundaries, hence why acceptance plays such a huge role in boundary setting. On the plus side, by setting boundaries, we get to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Be Clear about priorities
Figuring out what you need and what you want from your various relationships will help you to decide on any new and existing boundaries.
A good example would be to understand what you might need from your mother, you might not need the exact same thing from your partner. Distinguishing the basics is a good way to start getting clear about what you need to be happy.
Be firm AND courteous
Experts call this the ‘’bliss point’’. This is the point in which we strike the balance between getting our point across firmly and respectfully.
Remember that setting boundaries are not supposed to be done aggressively or intended to cause tension, in fact, quite the opposite! Boundaries are designed to create harmony and fairness in relationships so that each party feels seen, heard and supported.
Being able to communicate our needs in a firm and courteous way encourages a much more enriching experience with those around us.
Consider the consequences
Without consequences, a boundary is an empty threat.
It’s important that when setting a boundary of some kind, that we consider the consequences of it not being respectfully upheld so that we know what action to take ahead of time.
Communicating why a boundary is so important and what will happen if the boundary is violated in any way, sets the precedence for future behaviour. Again, this goes back to being very clear about what your basic wants, needs, and desires truly are to have effective, long-lasting relationships.
If you feel as though you are still struggling to set healthy boundaries with the people in your life, then perhaps it’s time for you to consider therapy. Contact the team at Tikvah Lake Recovery today and find out how we can help.