Boundaries are your values, expectations, principles or limits that you establish in order to keep yourself feeling safe physically, emotionally and mentally. Setting healthy boundaries is giving yourself permission to be you. It communicates to everyone what you stand for, what you are willing to do, and what you will never do.
In this article, I will talk about everything you need to know about boundaries and how to set them.
Building boundaries goes against our innate human desire to be loved and accepted, so we ignore building them. It is not easy to set and communicate our boundaries, but they are essential ingredients for our health, relationships, and safety. Boundaries give us a sense of power and control over our physical space, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Physical Boundaries: primarily referring to rules that define personal space and the physical body, such as hugs, touch, handshake, etc.
Mental Boundaries: they are intangible and harder to define, they are our thoughts, values, opinions, and knowledge.
Emotional Boundaries: they are intangible and can be felt, they are our feelings and emotions.
In the physical world, boundaries are easy to observe, touch and feel. Your bedroom has a door. Your backyard has a fence. Your city has a city-limits and so on. Physical boundaries have different shapes and looks, but they all communicate the same message: this is my property, there are rules, and this is how I expect you to behave if you cross my property lines. Once people cross your property lines, it becomes your responsibility for what happens on your property.
In relationships, these lines are not physical, and they are not visible. You have to exert a lot more effort to define your boundaries and to protect them. What is a rule of thumb when it comes to your personal boundaries? Keep bad things out and let good things in. Boundaries enable you to draw a line between you and other people. They differentiate between ownership and responsibility.
In his bestselling book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Clout explains that “Boundaries show you where you end someone else begins." Setting boundaries is healthy and a sign of responsibility. When you set boundaries, you express your respect to yourself, others, your time and your talents.
In order for you to create great boundaries, you have to be able to say no to people and to hold held them accountable. It is not easy to tell your family or boss “no”, but you have to learn how to say “no” firmly but respectfully. You also have to be able to see people make mistakes or even fail. Our first instinct is to jump in and help others, but we have to resist the urge to save everyone. People need to fail so they can learn.
If you are unable to say "no", you will have a hard time defining your boundaries. In order for you to build boundaries, you need to resign from your self-assigned job as the world Chief Happiness Officer. It is your responsibility to treat people with love and kindness, but it is not your responsibility to make people feel a certain way.
Your "no" may cause some discomfort and you need to be comfortable with that. "No" to other people often means "yes" to yourself, and it can be an improvement opportunity for the other party. Your "no" is your boundary, so use it wisely. If I ask you to help me with a project, and you told me "no", it shows respect for your own time, and I can use it as an opportunity to manage my time better.
If you try to rescue everyone around you from their own mistakes, you are not helping them. You are setting them up for failure. You are interfering with one of the most powerful laws of nature. People should fail if they do not put in an adequate effort to succeed. The outcome of most situations is dependent on the effort that you exert, and the time you invest.
If you see someone who is failing, and you know that he or she did not put the adequate effort in to succeed, let them fail. Rescuing them from failure is cruel. They need to learn that the outcome is closely related to the effort and the time they invest. If we keep feeling responsible for other people’s results, we prevent them from growing.
For any relationship to be successful, both parties have to be happy. It is your responsibility to make yourself happy before attempting to make your partner happy. Boundaries help you accomplish that task. Boundaries define your responsibilities and emotional needs.
People like to be in relationships to feel safe, loved, and valued. Setting boundaries go against these human desires and needs. We worry that boundaries create friction and confrontation. These are two things that any couple try to avoid. In his, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni mentions that avoiding confrontation and friction prevents any relationship from reaching its true potential. Engaging in healthy conflicts that are based on love and respect leads to discomfort, stress, and growth. You cannot reach growth if you avoid discomfort and stress.
Dr. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall wrote an article about the importance of conflict in healthy relationships titled "Why Conflict Is Healthy for Relationships." In the article, Dr. Hall outlined three things you need to know about communicating consciously in any conflict. They help to harness the good that can come from disagreement; conflicts signal a need for change, keep both partners independent, and uncover other areas that couple needs to improve.
Do not worry that boundaries create conflicts, it is your responsibility to hold your partner accountable, and to respect your spouse’s boundaries.
When you hold your spouse accountable, consider three things: you, him/her and us. How does the issue seem to you? How does it seem to them? What does it mean for the relationship? Do not exchange accusation, exchange information without blaming each other. You can say something like this "I love you and I accept who you are. I just want to make you aware of how your behavior is impacting my emotions. I like to know how you came to this conclusion."
It is your obligation to hold your spouse accountable and bring the best out of them. Do it kindly, do not light a fire under them. Light a fire inside of them and they will know what to do to resolve the issue. Respecting the way you feel is an important boundary that needs to be respected.
If your spouse is communicating about a boundary that you were not aware of, he or she is communicating a need. There are unmet needs that should be addressed. Marriage does not give you the right to restrict your spouse’s freedom or deny his or her emotional needs. If he or she is complaining from feeling restricted and wants to create a boundary, you need to understand that your spouse does not feel themselves in the relationship.
Having boundaries protect you from being hurt and allow you to think freely. Boundaries protect you from being hurt and from hurting your spouse. Once you know your spouse’s boundaries, you can respect them and avoid future conflicts. It is unwise to think that you can shift your spouse’s boundaries to make yourself happier. If you are unhappy about a boundary, you need to discuss it with your spouse without forcing them to change.
On the other hand, if you allow other people to cross your boundary to keep the peace, you are setting yourself up for failure. Denying your own needs to make other people happy will lead to a joyless life. It is your responsibility to communicate your feelings to your spouse, and it is their responsibility to communicate theirs. Do not attempt to decipher their behavior, when you are in doubt, ask them to clarify.
If you have a hard time establishing boundaries, I will mention five steps to help you create stronger boundaries. If you use these steps, you will be happier in your relationships. Creating stronger boundaries is the number one way for you to improve your life.
Dr. Judith Belmont encourages her clients to set their boundaries by asking themselves one big question: What is my right? You have the right to say no without feeling guilty, to be treated with respect, to be safe, to declare your needs, to be accepted, to refuse other people's expectation of you. These rights should always be your top priority when you are setting boundaries, and you can add any need that is important to you.
If you think someone is violating your personal space, say something. If you feel unsafe about a situation, do something. If you notice that your fists are clenched, get out of that space. If your first instinct is to freeze, fight or flight, find a safe way to retreat from the situation.
Having a set of personal values will make it easier for you to set boundaries. Values are your strongly held beliefs about what is valuable and important to you. Your values will guard you against temptations. Your values determine what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable.
Once you gained insight into what boundaries are being crossed and what rights are being violated, ask the other person to respect your boundaries and communicate to them what needs to be changed immediately. You can say this, " I do no appreciate you invading my personal space and asking me to make a decision right now, I need you to step back and give me some time to think about this situation."
Boundaries need to be discussed early and often in any relationship. When you talk about boundaries, remove all distractions and discuss them with kindness.
If you like to know how to set boundaries at work, read this article.