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What does it mean to set healthy boundaries?

Think of boundaries as rules and principles you live by when you say what you will or won’t do or allow in your life.  Life can’t exist without boundaries, even with your nearest and dearest like your kids, partners, parents and so on…..

If you have difficulty saying no, override your needs to please others,bothered by someone who is demanding, controlling, criticizing, pushy, abusive, invasive, pleading, or even smothering you with kindness, allowing or enduring unwanted touch,  it’s your responsibility to speak up.  Everyone has experienced boundary violations and this is why this topic is important for all of us

Healthy boundaries are meant to help us find safety.  It outlines where our mental, emotional, physical space ends, and where another person’s may begin.

When we have healthy boundaries, we take responsibility for our needs, thoughts, and feelings, and we allow others to have their own needs, thoughts, and feelings, without taking responsibility or needing to somehow change them.  When we honour our boundaries, we set limits, and take adult responsibility for our experiences.


Why should you care about healthy boundaries?

Setting boundaries is essential if we want to be both physically and emotionally healthy. Strong boundaries help maintain balance, self-respect and allow us to be interdependent in intimate relationships and life in general. A lack of boundaries is like leaving the door to your home wide open, anyone, including welcome and un-welcome guests can walk in without hesitation. Having rigid boundaries leads to loneliness and isolation and is akin to living in a fortress with no opening in sight.

Types of personal boundaries:

(1)Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries can include your body, your home, your work space, your purse or wallet etc.

These are the literal lines we draw when it comes to our physical interaction with others.

This could be about physically touching someone (a hug, hand shake, physical proximity when talking, etc.).

But also about the rules we have when spending time with someone (where, how long, and what to do or not do). It could be us determining if and how we will share our physical body and presence with others.

Examples: “It is not ok with me that you treat me this way”, “I am not ok being around you if you are going to behave this way”, or ” I do not feel comfortable sitting this close.”

(2)Spiritual Boundaries

Can we allow others to have their chosen spiritual life (or lack thereof), without feeling the need to change them, convince them of their wrongness, be aggressive, force, manipulate or judge them to see things differently?

When spiritual boundaries are weak or non existence it is so easy to engage with people or a person and get into an argument that you cannot win, or even be persuaded or manipulated into their belief system that may not be best for you. To have good spiritual boundaries you won’t need to be manipulated into a belief. You will learn more about it and decide whether this is something important to you.

Protecting your spiritual beliefs can be simply deciding who you talk to about your beliefs and spiritual practices how you allow others to interact with you regarding your/their beliefs.

The spiritual  boundaries we set for ourselves begins with our core values. These core values create who we are and what we do on a daily basis. Our true identity is built by what we decide we are going to believe over a lifetime. These central beliefs shape our choices in jobs, fun and even our mate.

(3)Emotional Boundaries-

These areas of boundaries protect our feelings. Our emotional boundaries include how we allow others to treat us, whether our emotions are respected & honoured, and how we treat others in return. This area of boundaries is also about protecting how others talk to us individually (name calling/put downs).

Healthy emotional boundaries serve two very good purposes. They keep us from imposing our emotions on other people, dumping endlessly on anyone who will listen to us (and then regretting it later). Emotional boundaries help us handle our feelings in appropriate ways.

Emotional boundaries also keep us from taking on the emotions of others who are spewing their emotional garbage… It also  what protect us from being manipulated by others through guilt and shame and fear. They help us not take on responsibility for someone else’s emotions.

(4)Mental Boundaries

This defines our thoughts and opinions allowing us to choose what we think about and to stop ourselves from thinking about other things.  Additionally, as we form opinions, we have freedom in how we analyse a situation, what information we integrate into this assessment, and what our resulting opinion will be.  Regardless of whether or not someone agrees with our opinion, it is ours to have and creates a distinction between us and someone else in our lives.  Maintaining your own opinion or value about something is one of the components that make you a unique and distinct person. These boundaries also enable us to reject thoughts and opinions being forced on us that are contrary to our belief system.

When you are talking to another person with intact mental boundaries, you can share opinions back and forth and have great discussions. No one feels forced to agree with the other person. No one is told their ideas are silly or stupid. However, there are forceful people who are not content to simply share ideas, or have a meeting of the minds. Instead, they (overtly or covertly) demand that you agree with them. They don’t even like it if you “agree to disagree.”

(5)Sexual boundaries

Sexual boundaries include boundaries about your sexuality, body, who touches you intimately (or how they touch you), comments that are sexual in nature, what your level of comfortability is with sexual behaviours, and how comfortable you feel touching others.  Sometimes we tend to think of sexual boundary violations as simply being coerced into sexual behaviours against our will.  While this is one aspect of a sexual boundary being violated, other examples include:  someone making sexual innuendos or comments that feel inappropriate, uncomfortable, or disrespectful;  sexual glances or having someone look at you in a sexual way that feels uncomfortable;  being sexualized or objectified in the workplace or by a friend or stranger;  having a working relationship with a professional (doctor, therapist, or health care professional) who uses the intimate nature of the professional relationship to lure a client into a sexual relationship, having a sexual partner coerce you into sexual acts that you feel uncomfortable with;  or receiving sexual emails, text messages or phone calls that are inappropriate and suggestive sexually.  These are only a few of the many ways our boundaries can be violated sexually.

Food for thought

“Good fences make good neighbours.”  Frost’s poem Mending Wall

stay tuned next week I will discuss the poor effects of unhealthy boundaries