Do you have a healthy set of personal boundaries? Perhaps that’s not something you’ve ever considered but if you have, what shaped yours and how well do you maintain them?
What are boundaries? They could be described as “the physical, emotional and mental limits you establish to protect yourself from being manipulated, used, or violated by others allowing you to separate who you are, and what you think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others”
Our first introduction to boundaries is at a young age, demonstrated in the behaviour of those who are closest to us and/or most influential in our early development, so generally our parent(s) or carer(s). Whether those boundaries are healthy or not will vary depending on the physical and psychological health of others in our immediate environment. Initially, we are expected to live according to the boundaries that they have created even though they may make us feel uncomfortable at the time or put us at risk, they give us an indication of things we are expected to do or are not allowed to do and, similar to values, they guide our behaviour.
The important thing to recognise is that because our initial boundaries are those that are imposed upon us, it may take a while to realise that they are unhealthy and working against us. Like so many things in life how effective they are will be a matter for trial and error, the learning that comes may cause us some pain and we learn as a result. If we don’t review our boundaries or don’t realise we need to, we may continue to use the ones established in childhood, even though they probably no longer serve us as we develop and mature and things change around us, any of which may require an adjustment to our boundaries.
For example, if we were raised around someone who puts everyone else’s needs before theirs then that’s likely to be how we go about things now. It’s not purely a female trait and it’s important to acknowledge that our own needs and feelings are just as important as those of others, but when we constantly put ourselves last and never allow time for ourselves it becomes exhausting, and we may become resentful and disengage. That approach is unhealthy for us and others and those with weak boundaries are more likely to violate the boundaries of others yet not be aware that they are.
None of this should stop us from continually working on them as they are an important part of who we are, indicators of our level of self-respect and self-worth communicated to others in verbal and non-verbal, conscious and unconscious ways. Importantly they have a bearing on all our relationships not just with others but also with ourselves.
Rather than have your self-esteem dictated by others, it is necessary to explore and accept who you are and identify and establish new physical and emotional boundaries. Doing that will improve confidence and self-worth and give you the ability to let others know when they’ve crossed the line, acted inappropriately or disregarded you. And that will help you build healthy relationships based on trust and respect.
Which areas of our life needs boundaries? They can be formed in relation to physical contact, verbal interactions and personal space and typically would consider emotional, physical, sexual, workplace, material and time in relation to work, home, family and friends.
Remember that, once established, it’s important that we maintain our boundaries and in doing that also recognise and respect the boundaries of others.