The concept of boundaries continues to come up time and again, both within psychology and the ever-expanding personal development sphere. But what exactly do they mean? Broken down to their simplest terms, they’re the standards we use to communicate how we expect to be treated by others.
Setting boundaries is not only healthy, but a necessity. There can sometimes be the misconception that enforcing these standards is a form of selfishness or ego-driven act. However, you will rarely find someone who genuinely cares for your well-being saying such a thing. Boundaries are about upholding your dignity, and there is absolutely no shame in it.
In What Scenarios?
Before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at what areas of life they apply to and how we enact them. There are three basic types of boundary, which are:
Material: These relate to our possessions such as our car, money, clothes and food, etc.
Physical: These relate to our personal space, privacy and body.
Emotional: These relate to our emotional needs and the situations in which they might be compromised.
Each of these boundary types can be divided into two sub-sections; personal and interpersonal. Personal boundaries are those we use to police our own behaviours. It stops us from over-sharing sensitive details, and also from forming addictive habits patterns.
Inter-personal boundaries, on the other hand, relate to the nature of our relations with our friends, family, colleagues and also the general public. These are the standards we’ve already touched on that we use to communicate what we will and will not tolerate from others.
Both personal and inter-personal boundaries have a scale on which they can be measured. They most commonly come under the following three headings.
Healthy: This is the ideal place to be, maintaining a strong but fair set of values that remain consistent over time. That means sharing personal information only when appropriate and not forcing other into acts that might compromise their boundaries.
Rigid: Someone with rigid boundaries might have a high self-regard, and usually not be willing to compromise, even when it’s in their best interest to do so. They can be prone to displaying an ‘island’ mindset, making it difficult for them to accept help.
Porous: Possibly the most dangerous level of boundary enforcement, someone operating at this level will over-share, have a hard time turning down requests, become emotionally entangled in others business and leave themselves wide open to potential abuse.
Why are they Important?
We set boundaries because we need to, not to antagonise, draw battle lines or close ourselves off from the world; it is a necessary act of self-preservation. Having boundaries communicates self-worth. It says to people, ‘THIS is what I will accept, and if you can’t respect me, THESE will be the consequences.’
If we have no boundaries or allow those you do have to be violated consistently – as can be the case in narcissistic abuse – you become compromised. It sets a precedent that others might look on as an opportunity to take advantage of, and in the longer-term can lead to the loss of identity.
There are times when you might question the authority you have to set and enforce these limits, but let me tell you that absolutely must do so to maintain healthy and constructive relationships. Boundaries are not a privilege afforded to the few; they’re a right we all have. They serve as the foundation for our well-being, and, are in fact, the oldest, most effective form of self-care.
But don’t fall into the trap of feeling you need to go into the how’s, the what’s and the whys of your decision. Just because you have a set of defined values doesn’t mean you have to explain them at every juncture. Their function is to strengthen your relationships, and if you’re constantly vocalising, it can appear overly righteous and confrontational.
Be firm, of course. But act with grace and humility. Remain neutral in your assertions and let your stance speak for itself. It’s natural that people will unknowingly step over the line occasionally, but remember, maintaining boundaries is as much about how you respond as it is about what they are.
***If you’re having trouble establishing your personal boundaries or you’re finding them being violated on a consistent basis, one of our specialists would be happy to provide you with a consultation to determine how best they help you.
The Importance of Setting Personal Boundaries was last modified: January 7th, 2021 by Dr Becky Spelman
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