Setting good personal boundaries is critical to creating healthy relationships, increasing self-esteem, and reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Boundaries protect your personal self by setting a clear line between what is you and what is not you. A lack of boundaries opens the door for others to determine your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Defining boundaries is a process of determining what behavior you will accept from others and what behaviors you will not accept.
Boundaries include physical boundaries as well as emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, or even looking through your personal files or your phone.
Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs.
Strong boundaries protect your self-esteem and your identity as an individual with the right to make your own choices. Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings, and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are okay just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others, taking responsibility for the outcomes of other people's choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on the approval of others.
Boundaries are your own invisible force field, and you are in charge of protecting it. 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 our boundaries are being crossed. We may even fear the consequences to our relationships if we set them.
To identify when your boundaries are being crossed, stay tuned into your feelings. Red flags include discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, guilt, and fear. These emotions stem from feeling taken advantage of or not feeling appreciated. Think about the people who you feel this way around. Do the following statements ring true?
Unhealthy boundaries are often characterized by a weak sense of your own identity and your own feelings of disempowerment in decision-making in your own life. This leads you down the road of relying on your partner for happiness and decision-making responsibilities, thereby losing important parts of your own identity. An inability to set boundaries also stems from fear: fear of abandonment or losing the relationship, fear of being judged, or fear of hurting other people's feelings.
I have found The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Dr. Patricia Evans helpful in identifying broken boundaries.
Our lessons about boundaries begin early in our lives, first in our families and then in our peer groups. These early boundaries are internalized as our way of asserting our own needs and wants, as well as in taking responsibility for other people's needs and wants. How comfortable we are standing up for ourselves, verbalizing our feelings, and expressing our needs starts very early in our development.
Building better boundaries begins with knowing and understanding what your own limits are, as well as who you are, what you are responsible for, and what you are not responsible for. For example: I am responsible for my happiness, my behavior, my choices, my feelings. I am not responsible for other people's happiness, behaviors, choices, or feelings.
Emotional Boundaries and Boundary Traps
Emotional boundaries fall into the categories of time, emotions, energy, and values. Be aware of boundary traps in relationships. The following scenarios may seem familiar. Start by recognizing which boundary traps you commonly fall in.
Setting Emotional Boundaries
Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings, and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are okay just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others, taking responsibility for the outcomes of other people's choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on the approval of others.
Make a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Write them down. Visualize yourself setting them, and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them. Remember: This is a process. Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and experience success before taking on more challenging boundaries.
Boundaries to start with:
If you are shifting the dynamic in the relationship, you may feel resistance from the other person. This is normal and okay. Simply stick to your guns and continue to communicate your needs. Use the ”broken record technique” and repeat the same statement as many times as you need. Healthy relationships are a balance of give and take. In a healthy relationship, you feel calm, safe, supported, respected, taken care of, and unconditionally accepted. You are forgiven without past offenses being brought up repeatedly, seeming acts of revenge, or passive-aggressive behaviors from the other person. You are free to be who you are and encouraged to be your best self.
Good boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect, and strength. We teach people how to treat us. Set high standards for those you surround yourself with. Expect to be treated in the same loving way you treat them. You will soon find yourself surrounded by those who respect you, care about your needs and your feelings, and treat you with kindness.
My favorite book that I often refer clients to for positive relationship-building is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.