Engagement and interaction are fundamental parts of the human experience. The way we choose to engage with the people around us can enhance our lives or make it miserable. The latter tends to happen when people cross the line and do things that make us uncomfortable.
This could look like a colleague making “jokes” about your hair, or a friend pestering you to go out past your bedtime.
Why do such scenarios cause discomfort?
Probably because your boundaries are being crossed.
Many people have no clue what a boundary is, and this is understandable. I don’t remember it being part of my curriculum and only parents who are aware can pass the knowledge down.
Personal boundary issues can lead to losing yourself and poor mental health in the long run, which is why it’s such an essential skill to learn. Keep reading to learn about healthy vs unhealthy boundaries and how to use this knowledge to protect your mental health and wellbeing.
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries are a form of self-preservation. They’re the physical, emotional, and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.
Why are boundaries important?
They tell people how they can treat you, what you’ll tolerate, and what you won’t. In sum, boundaries are a direct reflection of your values, beliefs, and how you treat yourself.
Boundaries aren’t just for people you’re emotionally involved with; they extend to friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers. You may also find that you have to set boundaries with yourself sometimes, too. Boundaries can be:
Healthy vs Unhealthy Boundaries
What are healthy boundaries and what are poor boundaries? Not many know the difference between the two. Here is a simple infographic to explain the difference.
Did any of the above examples surprise you? You’re not alone. I find the list of unhealthy boundaries shocks many of my clients! It makes you question what you’ve been taught about self-love and how to engage with those around you. It can also be overwhelming because you realize you have a lot of unlearning to do.
However, boundaries are often influenced by our heritage, societal norms, and family values, so you may not know any better. Awareness is the first step so don’t be hard on yourself. It’s all part of the personal growth journey.
Let’s put things into perspective by exploring real-life examples.
Examples of Unhealthy Boundaries
People lack boundaries because they have a high level of neediness (or in psych terms, codependence). People who are needy or codependent have a desperate need for love and affection from others. To receive this love and affection, they sacrifice their identity and remove their boundaries.
If you often feel used, burned out, or over extended, it’s likely you have poor boundaries.
Let’s use Jessica as an example of someone with poor boundaries.
This is a common example of someone with poor boundaries. Jessica isn't able to communicate her needs. In an ideal scenario, she would tell her team leader she can’t stay beyond 6pm as time to recharge and be with family is equally as important as work.
It’s key to note that unhealthy boundaries can also create toxic behaviors in the person who lacks boundaries. For example, you may expect people to go above and beyond for you, get upset when they tell you no, and set unrealistic expectations.
People with poor boundaries often expect others to be self-sacrificing all the time.
Examples of healthy Boundaries
Here is an example of healthy boundaries we should all aspire to.
As you can see, Lynette understands her needs, can communicate them confidently, and is consistent with the boundaries she sets. Good boundaries are clear, firm, and unapologetic. People with healthy boundaries don’t compromise their values because they fear rejection––being accepted by themselves is more important.
How do I Set Boundaries?
The key to setting boundaries is first figuring out what you want from your various relationships. You can then set boundaries based on those desires and communicate them to other people. Here are some things you can do to start.
Write your values in a journal
Note things that make you feel violated, angry, unhappy, or uncomfortable
Be direct when communicating your needs
Learn to say no without explaining
Get the help of a therapist
Practicing Boundary Setting
Creating healthy boundaries can be a long but rewarding road. However, it’s important you’re patient with yourself––after reading this article, you won’t suddenly have perfect boundaries. It takes time and practice; you may even regress often!
Setting boundaries can also feel selfish when you care about others and want to maintain harmony in all your relationships. When you attempt to set boundaries, it can feel as though you are somehow betraying the mantle of trust and dependency your colleagues, friends, and loved ones have placed upon you. Take heart and know this isn’t the case; boundary setting is a form of self-love!
When setting boundaries, be assertive and try using statements that begin with “I”. This tells the person you’re communicating with the boundary is about you and how you feel.
“I won’t be able to stay beyond work hours anymore. I need to leave at closing moving forward.”
“I feel belittled when you raise your voice at me. I need you to communicate in a calmer and more respectful tone.”
“I don’t have the emotional capacity for this conversation right now. I would appreciate it if we could revisit it another day.“
“I feel uncomfortable when you make jokes about my hair. Please refrain from commenting on it from now on.”
“I don’t like being touched during conversations. I would prefer we speak without any physical contact.”
Being direct and communicating your needs can feel uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with time.
When People Don’t Respect Your Boundaries
In an ideal world everyone would respect your boundaries and even celebrate you for having them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Be ready for negative responses and pushback when you set boundaries, especially from people who don’t have any.
How do you deal with people who don’t respect your personal boundaries? Accept you can't control another person's behavior and detach yourself instead.
Some ways to do this include:
Not participating in unproductive conversations
Declining invitations that involve spending time with them
Not reacting to their disrespectful behavior
When your boundaries are consistently crossed, it’s also crucial you follow up with consequences. An example is,
“If you curse at me again, I'm going to have to end the conversation.”
Be consistent with your consequences so the people in your life know you’re serious. Your boundaries are not up for discussion!
Can Boundaries Change?
Yes! Boundaries aren’t set in stone, they can change. As you evolve, so do your needs and boundaries.
For instance, you may have once been ok with taking your sister to work every day, but can later decide it’s too stressful for you. You have the right to change your mind and revisit your boundaries at any time.
Boundary setting can teach you so much about yourself and the state of your mental health. It isn’t a skill you have to learn alone, luckily. I have helped many women improve their boundaries and can help you too. Feel free to contact me to learn more about the services I offer or schedule a free consultation.