WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES?
Boundaries are emotional, mental, and physical limits that we establish to protect ourselves from being used, manipulated, or mistreated by others. Having boundaries allows us to separate and protect ourselves from others. They are very important to establish in relationships so that we can be ourselves without fear of judgement or consequences from others, we also understand that others have boundaries and we respect them. We may think of boundaries as mostly physical, but there are several kinds of boundaries that we can utilize, such as the following:
- Material: Giving or lending things such as your car, money, clothes, etc
- Physical: Personal space, privacy, your body, locking doors
- Emotional: Distinguishing feelings of guilt, blaming, accepting blame
- Mental: Listening with an open mind without being too defensive or argumentative
- Spiritual: Relating beliefs with God or higher power
- Sexual: Protecting your comfort level with sexual activity; what, where, when, and with whom
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU NEED THEM?
Everyone needs boundaries, so as a rule of thumb we should always protect ourselves by establishing boundaries with the people around us. Having relationships involves expectations, but also a certain level of respect for each other and for ourselves. It’s important to have boundaries in every aspect. There are people who abuse boundaries even though they are set, so our boundaries may need to be reinforced from time to time. If someone seems to be abusing our boundaries, for example material boundaries (e.g., they keep wanting to borrow money), it is time to have a firm conversation with them about how they cannot continue to expect money as a handout from you any longer. If it continues past that, it may be time to set further boundaries and consequences with that person. Perhaps by taking space from them or setting limits on how much they lean on you for support. It can be hard to say no to family members and friends, but for your own self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-confidence boundaries are needed with everyone.
HOW DO YOU SET THEM?
You set boundaries through communication. Having strong and clear guidelines and communicating what your expectations are when it comes to the boundaries you have is very important. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a life skill. Make sure you know your limits as well, so it’s important to tune in with yourself and know what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable with the people in your life before you communicate your boundaries to them, that way you will be clear with them and they will have a greater chance of respecting your boundaries. There are some people that can accept boundaries a lot easier than others, even without dialogue; meaning you don’t even have to explain anything and they will respect and know your boundaries. However, there are some people, due to cultural differences or differences in personality, that don’t always understand boundaries and may need them to be directly explained. If you’re having a hard time setting boundaries, you might want to communicate with a counsellor about how best to implement them. We at Strength Counselling provide online therapy and have established an interpersonal therapeutic process that is designed to create deeper connections with the self and others, with a focus on healthy communication and building relationships. You can always contact us HERE for more information.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR BOUNDARIES HAVE BEEN VIOLATED?
Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries. It is important to set consequences if someone violates your boundaries or they will learn that they can continue to violate them. You want to explain very clearly what has been violated and why trust has been broken, and ensure that the person understands why you may need to pull back and protect yourself (i.e., the consequence) because of that violation. It may take time to build trust again with the people who violate your boundaries.
CAN YOU BE COMPASSIONATE AND HAVE BOUNDARIES?
You can be compassionate and have boundaries. There’s always a respectful way to explain yourself and your desires and limits with others, it doesn’t have to be an awkward conversation although it may feel uncomfortable while you are learning to do so. It is important to facilitate understanding of how you FEEL when boundaries are violated. This can reduce the chances of the person feeling defensive about the boundaries being set, and allow for a better understanding and comprehension of your feelings. Explaining that you still love and care for them even though you have these boundaries will help, because some people may feel a sense of rejection even though that is not your intention. In a respectful way, let the person know when something is particularly bothersome and that you can work together to address it, creating a cooperative plan of action that will include both of you.
Communicating boundaries takes practise and if you are not comfortable, it is a good idea to start small. You can set boundaries that are less scary and overwhelming, then as you build confidence you can address more difficult communications about boundaries. The more you set them, the easier it will be to establish more difficult boundaries. This takes practise. Once you master the skill you will feel more relaxed with the people around you, and more confident in communicating your desires and needs.