Personal boundaries are the limits or rules we set for ourselves within relationships. People create boundaries to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for others to behave around them and how they will respond if someone steps outside of these.
A person with healthy boundaries can say ‘no’ to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to having close relationships. The easiest way to think about a boundary is a property line with ‘no trespassing sign’, this sends a clear message that violating this boundary will result in a consequence. This type of boundary is easy to picture and understand, however personal boundaries can be harder to define because the lines are not visible, are subject to change and will be unique to each individual. Personal boundaries determine the amount of physical and emotional space you allow between yourself and others. They help you decide what types of communication, behaviour and interaction are acceptable.
Differing Boundary Types
A person who always keeps others at a distance (emotionally, physically, or otherwise) is said to have ‘rigid boundaries’. Alternatively, someone who tends to get too involved with others has ‘porous boundaries’. Both can be unhealthy and effect our mental and emotional well being when exercised too often.
Characteristics of Unhealthy Boundaries Include
- Sharing too much too soon, or on the other end of the spectrum, closing yourself off and not expressing your needs and wants.
- Difficulty in saying no to others, or never asking for help.
- Has few close relationships or over involved with other people’s problems.
- May seem detached, even with romantic relationships or accepts abuse or disrespect within same relationship. Not knowing how to separate your feelings from your partners and allowing his/her mood to dictate your level of happiness or sadness (a.k.a codependency ).
- Keeps others at a distant to avoid possibility of rejection or fears rejection if they do not comply with others.
- Weak sense of your own identity, basing how you feel on how others treat you. Being dependent on the opinions of others and constantly seeking external validation. You may sacrifice your plans, dreams, and goals to please others.
- Not taking responsibility for yourself and blaming others for your problems.
Physical boundary invasions include - Inappropriate touching or unwarranted sexual advances, looking through people’s emails or personal files and not allowing someone their personal space.
Healthy personal boundaries protect your sense of self-esteem and ability to separate your feelings from others. When you have unhealthy boundaries, it can be like getting caught in the midst of a storm with no protection. You expose yourself to being greatly affected by other peoples words, thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and opinions.
Healthy boundaries include and allow you to;
- Value your own opinions and not compromise your values for others.
- Share personal information in an appropriate way.
- Know your personal wants and needs and being able to communicate them respectfully.
- Have high self-esteem and self-respect.
- Protect your physical and emotional space from intrusion.
- Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power is shared.
- Be assertive to say confidently and truthfully ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to others. You will also be okay when others say ‘no’ to you.
- Separate your thoughts, feelings, and desires from others, and recognize that your boundaries are different to theirs.
- Empowers you to make healthy life choices and take responsibility for yourself.
Barriers to Boundary Setting
It seems obvious that no one would want his/her boundaries violated. So why do we allow it? Why would anyone NOT enforce or uphold personal boundaries? Answers to these may include:
- Fear of rejection and ultimately abandonment and loneliness.
- Fear of confrontation.
- Some may not have been taught or mentored what healthy boundaries are.
- Safety concerns.
If you are dealing with someone who is physically dangerous or threatening, it may not be safe to attempt to set boundaries with them. If you are in this situation, it can be helpful to work with a counselor or therapist to advocate a safety plan. Boundary setting may be a part of this.
Remember, you are not responsible for the other persons reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating it in a respective manner. At first you may feel selfish, guilty, or embarrassed, but do it anyway and remind yourself you have a right to self-care. Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. Surround yourself with people who respect your right to set personal boundaries.