Recognizing and setting healthy boundaries is something that we hear a lot about, but don’t often delve into. There are a lot of nuances behind the necessity of boundary setting with family, friends, romantic partners, and even co-workers. Defining boundaries is a process of determining what behavior you will accept from others and what you will not.
Why are healthy boundaries necessary?
To put it bluntly: to stay sane. Therefore, setting boundaries on your emotional bandwidth, your time, your money, or the ability to “always say yes” are important. As a trauma response, we often see folks turn into “people pleasers” who always say yes to avoid conflict. Hence, this is unhealthy and can lead to resentment down the line — especially if the tone is set for your boundaries to constantly be pushed. As a result, your mental health: anxiety, depression, will not be good. Certainly, your relationships will all be healthier in the end if you have healthy boundaries set.
Are there different types of boundaries?
There are! Let’s take a look at them:
We have physical boundaries — ones around your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations of these boundaries are usually the more obvious ones: inappropriate touching, standing too close, unwanted flirting, etc.
Emotional boundaries are a little more amorphous — they involve separating your feelings and your being from others’. Violations include taking responsibility for other people’s feelings, sacrificing your emotional well-being to tend to another person’s, blaming others for your problems, or allowing others to blame you for theirs. Emotional boundaries are set to protect yourself as an individual.
Monetary boundaries are kind of self-explanatory. Being in a one-sided relationship where you are paying for everything and are expected to do so is a violation of what should be a boundary.
Intellectual boundaries refer to thoughts and ideas. This includes respect for appropriate discussion (should we talk about puppies or the President?). When someone dismisses or belittles another person’s thoughts or ideas boundaries are violated. Maybe, you feel bulldozed in every conversation you have with a person? That’s a violation.
Time boundaries refer to how a person uses their or your time. Are you constantly waiting for someone who disregards your schedule and always runs late? Similarly, are you the sole sibling being asked to run errands or do favors for the family or a parent? When a person demands too much of another’s time without considering they may have other things going on, boundaries are violated.
Boundaries are your personal force field and you are in charge of protecting them. As important as this may sound, most of us have a difficult time setting healthy boundaries consistently. At times, it is difficult to identify when boundaries are being crossed. Because of this we may even fear the consequences of our relationships if we set them. Trudge on anyway!
When someone crosses a boundary, the anger you feel is often a response to a core value of yours being threatened or violated. It’s important to be really in tune with your core values. Click here to read about and find your core value system. Often, we have expectations of people to automatically know our core values and to honor them, which can lead to disappointment if we don’t communicate them to begin with. Let’s learn how to set healthy boundaries around these belief systems.
How do I set healthy boundaries?
When it comes to setting your boundaries, you have to be cognizant of whether they are rigid, porous, or healthy. Almost all people have a combination of boundary types. Sometimes they are rigid at work, porous with family or relationships, healthy with friends, or the opposite for all of the above! Keep reading to learn about how you place your boundaries.
Often, Rigid boundaries are a trauma response. Once a person feels boundaries were violated in the past, they set up a moat and a wall to keep people out to not be disappointed. You may keep rigid boundaries if you:
- Avoid intimacy or close relationships
- You’re unlikely to ask for help
- Have a few close friendships
- Are very protective of personal information
- May seem detached, even with romantic partners
- Keep others at a distance, possibly to avoid rejection
In contrast to rigid boundaries, Porous boundaries are the opposite alternative. Therefore, if you are a person who gets too personally involved with others or feels drained after spending time with certain people. You may have porous boundaries if you:
- Overshare personal information
- Have difficulty saying “no” to others
- Get over-involved with others’ problems
- Are dependent on the opinions of others
- Accept disrespect or abuse
- Fear rejection if you don’t comply with others’ wishes
Here is your reminder that you may have to set boundaries more than once, especially with people who have continually violated them in the past. Be prepared. When you have healthy boundaries you:
- Value your own opinions
- Don’t compromise values for others
- Share information in an appropriate way
- Know personal wants and needs and work to communicate them
- Can accept when others say “no”
How do I recognize when my boundaries are being violated?
As silly as this sounds, it’s often a “gut feeling,” though people don’t always listen to their gut. Therefore, to identify when your boundaries are violated, pay attention to your feelings. Red flags include discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, guilt, and fear — generally uncomfortable feelings.
All emotions are information and it’s important we pay attention to them. Often, these uncomfortable feelings stem from your core values being violated (not being appreciated, being taken advantage of, feeling lied to, etc.) Think about the people who you feel this way around. Do the following statements ring true? I can’t make my own decisions, I can’t ask for what I need, I can’t say no, I feel criticized, I feel responsible for their feelings, I seem to take on their moods, and I am often nervous, anxious or resentful around them.
If you answered yes to any of the above statements, your boundaries are probably being violated.
Protecting Your Boundaries
Our boundaries are often set as we grow up. How are the dynamics in your family? Are you able to say no when asked to come home on a whim? When asked multiple favors in a row, can you say no?It can be difficult to set a boundary with your family, but using “When you ______, I feel” speak is a good place to start. For instance:
When you ask me to come home for the holidays I feel stressed, I need to take time to (work on my mental health, things at home, etc). I wonder if we could find another time for me to come home where I could give you my best self and be fully present. How does July look for you?
Practicing the “Why” of Healthy Boundaries
This obviously can be incredibly difficult, especially when the precedent that you will jump when asked has already been set. Practice the why of setting the boundary by asserting your need. It can be helpful when you take ownership of another request or plan, rather than leaving it open-ended. While saying “no” can be difficult, offering another option can lessen the blow and leave both parties feeling a little less conflicted.
Above all, protecting your heart is what is best for yourself and your relationships. They will prosper when given healthy boundaries and you will feel more free, as well. It’s never too late to set them. As the year comes to a close, I hope you will consider your relationships and assess how to nurture them and make them healthier in the future!