Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Boundaries, What Are Those?
As a therapist, boundaries are something I talk about with my clients all the time. I probably annoy them a little bit with how often I bring them up, but they are really that important. Boundaries help to protect us, they help us establish safety and security, and they help us to create healthy relationships. The most important thing to remember about boundaries is that we all have the right to create and enforce our own boundaries!
So what are boundaries, for those of us who were not taught them? There are actually several different types of boundaries. Physical Boundaries are boundaries that have to do with our bodies and the physical space around us. Sometimes this is described as our “personal space”. There are different types of physical boundaries that are generally accepted by the society we live in but each individual likely has their own idea of what they are comfortable with in terms of how close we want someone to be when we are communicating with them.
Another type of boundary are Social Boundaries that are roles, norms, and customs for a society that determine lawful or appropriate behavior. This might include the language you use when addressing certain people like using “mam” or “sir”, but also the kind of language you are comfortable with people using when they speak to you such as wanting to be addressed by your first name, nickname, or last name depending on how well you know the person.
Then there are Emotional Boundaries that relate to how much and what type of personal information you share with others. We actually get to decide how much and what kind of personal information we share with other people. Especially when we are just getting to know someone we do not have to tell them any more than we feel comfortable sharing. It may be better to wait until we really know someone and know if they are trustworthy before we share a lot of personal information.
It still amazes me at times how little most of us are taught about boundaries growing up, and it angers me how often I find that some people are actually taught not to have boundaries or that boundaries are selfish when they are children or even as adults. This is because boundaries protect us from people who use and abuse. If we are raised by a user or an abuser or someone like that comes into our life they will do whatever they can to get us to dismantle our boundaries.
It can take time to work out what healthy boundaries are especially if you were not taught as a child and even longer to decide on and implement healthy boundaries of your own. Unfortunately, very few people are going to set boundaries for you or point out when you have a missing boundary or a boundary that is out of place.
Where to Place Boundaries
There are some clues that you can look for in recognizing when a boundary is missing, misplaced, or being violated. Our emotions can help a lot to communicate when we need to work on our boundaries. Emotions like irritation, annoyance, feeling drained or overwhelmed, and even discomfort, fear, or feeling violated can warn of that there is a boundary either missing, out of place, or being violated.
Missing boundaries can look like a lot of different things depending on the type of boundary that is missing. However, the common theme would be doing things or allowing others to do things that you wish were not happening. Sometimes this may be represented in a difficulty or inability to say “no” whether that is someone asking for your help or someone wanting to give you a hug. If we cannot say “no” we are probably missing boundaries.
Misplaced boundaries occur when we have a boundary in place but it is not actually where we want it to be so we are doing more than we really want to do. An example might be in the workplace. Perhaps we do not want to do any more than exactly what our job entails but we agree to do extra as long as we do not have to come in on our day off. This is a misplaced boundary because we are doing more than we want to be doing. Sometimes we have decided that this is all right or in our best interest but more often it creates negative feelings in us.
When Boundaries Are Not Respected
Lastly is a violated boundary, this is when there is a good boundary in place but someone ignores it and does what they want anyway. It can be hard to know what to do when a boundary is violated especially when it is done by a skilled boundary violator. We can let the person know that we have a boundary and they violated it. We can also ask for help in enforcing the boundary depending on the kind of boundary it is or we can decide on a consequence for the person who violated our boundary such as limiting the amount of contact we have with that person.
The way others respond to your boundaries can give you a lot of information about what kind of person they are and whether a relationship with them will be healthy. It is actually a red flag to watch for in people, if they do not respect your boundaries, make fun of your boundaries, or tell you that boundaries are selfish then they are likely not a healthy person to have in your life. However, if a person is supportive and understanding of your boundaries then they may very well be a person you could have a healthy relationship with.
Developing healthy boundaries and healthy relationships can take work but that work can really pay off. The first step is to evaluate your current boundaries, maybe even making a list of what boundaries you currently have. While you are at it, decide if any of these boundaries need to be adjusted or changed or if any are missing or if you have boundaries that are no longer working for you. Then you can start to decide on new boundaries, again write them out if that helps. Once you have decided on your boundaries you can start letting the people in your life know about them or informing strangers about them if needed. You can also think ahead about how you will enforce them or what the consequences will be if someone breaks one of your boundaries. These will likely change based on different circumstances. Good Luck!