What is a boundary?

“…a border and it can be physical, such as a fence between two properties, or abstract, such as a moral boundary that society decides it is wrong to cross.”  (vocabulary . com)

…”a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.“  (American Psychological Association)

“Personal boundaries define our edges. They create a space where we can feel, act, and genuinely be who we are.”  (Metta Psychology Group) 

Of these I prefer the last one when discussing personal boundaries. It’s so important to be able to be who we are. What does it mean to you to create and maintain boundaries?

We have varying degrees of physical and emotional boundaries, which may be adjusted depending upon the environment or people we’re spending time with. Our boundaries are our own and do not necessarily mirror others’. We may have many and strong boundaries, or not many or quite weak ones. For some it’s a challenge to set any at all.

It’s important for us to decide what resonates with us and then establish boundaries accordingly. But for many of us it’s challenging to do this because of societal pressures to not be selfish, or personal fears of hurting others’ feelings or being taken the wrong way, or not believing we have the right.

No boundaries?

Let’s be clear; it is not only ok to set, and maintain, boundaries…it’s mandatory for a healthy, happy life. What happens if we don’t establish boundaries?

~we get walked on

~we over-extend ourselves (and may become exhausted)

~we feel angry and resentful 

~we lose faith in ourselves

~we forget what we like and what’s important

~we lose the respect of others and of ourselves

First, we have to believe that it’s ok, that we’re important enough and worthy of doing what resonates with us. When looking at self care we follow the idea of putting on the oxygen mask first so we can help others. If we create and maintain boundaries we not only take care of ourselves, but show the world that we’re worthy of respect, that our time matters, that we matter. And as a parent, we model positive behavior for our children.

One thing I always have clients do when finding it challenging to allow themselves something, or change a belief, is to imagine that we’re talking about someone they love. Would you want your child to have no boundaries and be bulldozed all the time? Would you want your best friend to say yes to everything until he’s exhausted and having no fun? Likely not. So why would you want yourself to have that experience? 

boundaries balloon

Types of Boundaries

We have physical boundaries…the amount of space that feels ok between us and another person, whether a friend or a stranger, or the kind of surroundings that are comfortable for us, or put us on edge.

There are time and energy boundaries. There are only so many things we are capable of doing or handling in a day, and so much energy we have to do them. This changes daily, so what was scheduled yesterday might not quite work today. Some things might seem simple or insignificant but we can find that we just don’t have the energy for it at the moment. And sometimes certain people just drain our energy rather than inspiring and energizing us. We need to set boundaries on who we allow into our circles.

We also have emotional boundaries…things that are ok or not ok in relationships of all types. The ways in which we allow others to treat us are a matter of what boundaries we establish. Do we allow others to talk disrespectfully to or even yell at us? Is it ok for someone to tell us how to feel or what decisions to make? Is it ok with us to constantly feel like we’re saying the wrong thing to a certain person, by their responses?

How to set boundaries?

So what are healthy boundaries? I believe that if we always act from the heart and from our inner knowing, without malice, then we’re doing the right thing. This does NOT mean that others will agree with us or like our boundaries. But, if we establish them in order to be the best person we can be, and adhere to them in a compassionate way, we’re honoring ourselves. It’s not our responsibility to make the other person feel better.

If we have someone in our life who doesn’t seem to listen to us, even talks over us, and that doesn’t resonate with us, it’s good to acknowledge that it doesn’t work for us. When we’re being talked over, we can assert our boundary by saying, “I don’t feel I’m being heard and that’s frustrating. In order for us to have a conversation I need to be able to say what I want to say.” If this doesn’t work we can opt to end the conversation. If it continues me may decide this person isn’t a good fit in our life. We’ve maintained a boundary that if we’re not allowed to speak, we won’t have the conversation. And we’ve just asserted that we’re important and worthy of this boundary.

If we have 10 things to do before dinner time and someone asks us to do something for them, we can say, “I’d really love to help you, but today I just don’t have time for that.” We don’t even have to say we’re sorry, though we can of course…as long as it’s not from a place of taking responsibility for their feelings. And here, we’ve set a time and energy boundary…we have limits and don’t need to overstep them just to make someone happy or fulfill the caretaker role. We don’t need to please everyone.

Self Compassion

We often get mired in ‘shoulds’…we should be available to everyone all the time, we should just go with the flow and not rock the boat, we should not be so sensitive and just deal with it, we should not say anything if someone’s feelings could be hurt. I like to use the phrase…stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself!

Having strong, healthy boundaries helps us maintain a calmer nervous system and avoid feeling resentful, and boosts our self-esteem by honoring our needs. If we act from a place of treating ourselves with kindness, then others are more likely to do so. And we provide a good model for others to follow, especially children.

So, where could you establish a boundary that you aren’t currently that would help you feel calmer? Is there a limit you’ve set but allow yourself to let slide so you don’t make waves? What boundaries can you set now to honor yourself and your right to feel happy and at peace?

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