Welcome to Boundaries 101! Boundaries are a popular and sometimes confusing topic of discussion surrounding relationships. What is a boundary? How do we set healthy boundaries? How do we communicate them? Let me help.
What is a boundary?
It is a limit we set for ourselves and others. It serves as protection against manipulation by others. Boundaries allow us to maintain our separate identity yet remain connected in relationships. When healthy boundaries do not exist, we can become confused as to which emotions and thoughts are actually ours and which belong to the other. Without boundaries we often exist in a state of reactivity and wonder why our space, time, privacy, and self are not being respected.
How do we set healthy boundaries?
Setting healthy boundaries begins with self-awareness and clear internal values and expectations. This involves knowing and understanding our feelings, limits, and needs. These boundaries should not be fear based but rather a result of self-care and self-respect. Physical boundaries involve our body, our space, and our belongings. They include limits on how close people stand, how and when we are touched, and what parts of our lives are private. Emotional boundaries involve feelings, needs, and accountability. All those things allow us to own our feelings and not own the feelings of others. They allow us to have and express needs, not subjugating them to the needs or desires of others. They help us accept responsibility for our own issues and not for the issues of others.
How do we communicate our boundaries?
Once we identify and acknowledge our healthy boundaries, the next step is to clearly communicate them. The best way to do this is in a direct and respectful manner by following effective communication guidelines (see my blog Effective Communication, A Learned Skill October 31, 2017). It is important not to assume or guess what the other is thinking or feeling. How can someone be violating our boundary if he or she does not know what that boundary is?
We have learned much about the brain over the last 20 years but we have not perfected the art of mind reading. George Bernard Shaw had it right when he said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It is important to explain what is needed and felt from a personal perspective. It is appropriate to focus on what our feelings, limits, and needs are rather than how the other is missing the mark or doing something wrong.
There are other considerations when setting boundaries. . .
First, it is important to understand the motivation behind a boundary. Is it a genuine limit based on self-care and self-respect or is it motivated by a desire to control the other? The answer to this question is found in honest introspection. When a boundary becomes an ultimatum it is most often a control issue.
Also, follow through is essential. This can happen in a number of ways. It can be as simple as a verbal reminder or as complex as a change of relationship or even creating distance within that relationship. Setting boundaries for the right reason will help them be naturally respected.