How to have healthy boundaries

How to have healthy boundaries

Many people do not have healthy boundaries. Not only does this mean they often feel that people have crossed a line, it also means they can spend a lot of time berating themselves.

People without healthy boundaries can have the self-critical voice inside their head telling them off for saying “yes” – when they know they really should have said “no”.

Sometimes they can also feel guilty, ashamed or depressed because they did or agreed to do something they didn’t want to do. Often they will be saying to themselves: “Yet again…”

Virtually every day of our life most of us will come into contact with other people. That doesn’t have to be in a physical sense as in the modern world it can be in a huge variety of ways: on the phone, a video-call or conference, or by such as text message and email.

So everybody needs healthy boundaries. We need them to keep the space that allows us to be our own individual self.

As there are more people in the world than there ever has been and because the world is increasingly busier, we all need healthy boundaries more than ever. Healthy boundaries let us keep our personal integrity.

Healthy versus unhealthy boundaries

Most of us prefer that we are both liked and respected. But sometimes we need to make clear what our boundaries are and that someone is crossing them.

In this way we have to accept that someone possibly won’t like us. But they certainly will have respect for how we are able to realize and maintain our healthy boundaries.

It also gives a statement that we understand what healthy and unhealthy boundaries look like. It says that because of this, we will also respect your healthy boundary.

Healthy boundaries can be crossed in different ways. This includes verbally – that is, being shouted at; someone gossiping or spreading rumours about us; and also when someone is not allowed to speak or if they do it is ridiculed or ignored.

In an emotional sense if someone simply doesn’t respect our sense of self, that is crossing our healthy boundary. Similarly if someone lies to, puts down, bullies, manipulates, embarrasses or tries to makes us feel guilty – that is all boundary crossing.

Someone getting into our personal physical space, being physically threatened or someone touching us without our permission (not only us but our belongings) – these are all instances when our healthy boundary needs to be strongly and swiftly enforced.

Likewise if someone is behaving in a manner that is too familiar and that often includes a sexual nature, or invades our privacy by such as looking over our shoulders at our WhatsApp messages or reading our emails.

Saying “yes” instead of “no”

How to set and keep our healthy boundaries is something most of us learn in childhood. But if the significant adults in our life as we grow up do not understand the need for healthy boundaries, then we are being taught incorrectly.

Growing up in a household where there’s a lot of criticism or some other form of abuse can mean as an adult that someone will have little or no sense of their healthy boundary. It is unlikely they will even know the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries.

In these instances it is because their sense of self has been damaged. Their self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love has also been negatively impacted.

With low self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love, people are always seeking love and approval. So they say “yes” when they mean to say “no” – and say, do or agree to certain things because they are seeking external validation.

This is one of the devastating impacts of a child having unmet needs when they are growing up. Some people might have been taught how to have a healthy boundary in their childhood, but then such as a traumatic incident can cause boundary problems for them.

What are healthy boundaries?

We all really know when our healthy boundary has been crossed. If our self-critical voice isn’t chirping away berating us, we feel it with uncomfortable emotions and in our gut instinct.

Boundaries are simply limits to what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

Researcher and professor Brené Brown – well known for her TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” that’s been viewed more than 65 million times around the world – defines healthy boundaries in an equally simple way.

“A boundary is simply what’s okay and what’s not okay,” says Brown, who’s also the author of several bestselling recovery books including Dare to Lead. “If we don’t set boundaries, we let people do things that are not okay or get away with behaviors that are not okay. Then we’re just resentful or hateful.

“The moment someone asks you to do something you don’t have the time or inclination to do is fraught with vulnerability. ‘Yes!’ often seems like the easiest way out.

“But it comes at a price: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said ‘Sure!’ in my squeaky, I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this voice, only to spend hours, even months, feeling angry and resentful.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval – and this is coming from someone who spent years trying to please everyone! Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say ‘Enough!'”

Pushing against healthy boundaries

Most parents will certainly know what it’s like to have their healthy boundary tested. In this case it comes from their children as they are growing up.

In fact, this is perfectly normal: we all do it because it’s an intrinsic part of growing up. Children at various stages of their development want to test how independent they are – until the day they leave home.

Even though it’s normal, parents need to know and maintain their healthy boundary. That’s for the parents, but also so that they are teaching their children how to navigate life in a healthy manner.

Codependent relationships will be a constant test of boundaries as well. In addition, so too will being in a relationship of some sort with someone who’s an addict, including a person struggling with a behavioral addiction.

Frequently an addict and a codependent person will find each other to form a relationship. These relationships are bound to be fraught with unhealthy boundaries – and the solution here is to deal with the codependency or addiction.

Healthy boundaries can be developed in all circumstances. Firstly, someone needs to recognize that they currently have unhealthy boundaries.

Get in touch with us today for a chat about what we can do to help you or someone you care about to develop healthy boundaries.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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