Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits we create to identify what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for others to behave around us. Boundaries bring order to our lives, strengthen our relationships with others and ourselves, and are essential to our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Boundaries come in the form of words, actions and behaviours that we believe others ought to respect about us. Boundaries define who we are, what we find acceptable, what we view as important and how we see ourselves in the world.
Boundaries come from our beliefs about what we do and don’t deserve, our opinions, attitudes, past experience and social learning. They develop as we learn more about who we are and what we value. Our boundaries continue to strengthen as we trust and listen to our own views regarding our personal rights.
A person who keeps others at a distance is said to have rigid boundaries. Someone who tends to get too involved with others is said to have porous boundaries.
By setting healthy boundaries we develop a strong sense of self. Learning to respect ourselves allows us to become close to others and to develop robust authentic relationships while still being an individual.
Having strong boundaries in place prevents the suffocating and occupying of our own personal space and being. It prevents the risk of others taking advantage of us. When we feel this strong sense of self and have well defined boundaries for ourselves it means we are more likely to treat others with respect and be aware of others’ boundaries. Thus, boundaries allow us to be separate and at the same time connected.
We put boundaries in place to protect ourselves and develop a sense of safety and security.
Potential violations of our boundaries can result in:
- People taking advantage of us
- Feeling invisible or disempowered
- Not knowing how to ‘be’ around others
- Not being able to say “No” to a request
- Feeling as though we are not our true self
- Being treated in ways that don’t fit with our worldview
- Not asking for what we need or want
- Being uncomfortable with others’ behaviours
Unpleasant emotions such as resentment, anxiety, anger, depression, regret, disempowerment, frustration, guilt, hopelessness, sadness, bitterness, apathy, insecurity and despair are the result of boundaries being out of place.
When we notice that we are experiencing such emotions it is a clear indication that somewhere along the way our boundaries are not in place.
Therefore, it’s important to clarify and establish our boundaries, identify the boundaries that are not strong or in place, and begin to define our boundaries and communicate these to others in respectful and healthy ways.
Once we establish and get clear on our boundaries and we develop a strong sense of who we are and what we stand for, we are then able to feel much more comfortable in our own space.
Interestingly, the stronger our boundaries are, the more able we become to allow strict monitoring of boundaries to drop away. In other words, when we truly know ourselves we are able to accommodate a bit of ‘boundary stretching’ because we are sure of ourselves and how we define ourselves enough to not let others’ comments or behaviours interfere with or upset us.