What are Boundaries and Why are They Important?
Today we’re covering the highly discussed, but frequently misunderstood, topic of boundaries. Boundaries are an essential part of functioning relationships, healthy attachment, and ultimately, an act of self-compassion. Do you feel unsure of what constitutes a healthy boundary? Don’t worry. Let’s dive right into the discussion.
What are Boundaries?
Often people believe that boundaries are the same as limits but that is not true. Boundaries are a standard that you set to protect yourself from reaching your limits. Boundaries are applicable in every aspect of your life from relationships to work and even boundaries that you set with yourself. It is a commitment to honoring whatever space you deem necessary within the world to thrive in both your personal and interpersonal relationships.
Why are They Important?
Just as physical boundaries are necessary on highways and winding roads alike, boundaries in our life are important for keeping us on track, protecting us from unsafe outcomes, and even serving as a guide as we journey through our experiences. Boundaries are also a good way to gauge whether or not someone respects and values your well-being or is willing to participate in a healthy relationship. They can be a reminder of where we are headed in times of uncertainty or if you find yourself second-guessing someone or something. During such moments ask yourself, “does my experience with this person or situation align with my values and boundaries?” If the answer is no, it is far more likely that you need to evaluate your proximity to that person or thing rather than evaluate your boundaries. However, as we evolve, heal, and grow, it is important to take inventory of our boundaries as well to be sure they’re always in alignment with our goals and internal needs.
How do I set Boundaries?
Setting boundaries can look different at different times but the process often starts when you identify an area of your life that needs more care or protection. A common misconception is that boundaries are meant for people and situations around us. However, a healthy boundary is not about keeping others out, but about holding in our peace and safety. Boundaries should not be set as a punishment for others. While there may be consequences as a result of someone not respecting your boundary, the purpose of the boundary should always be to protect you from reaching your limits emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Setting a boundary can look like letting someone know that you will not be responding to work messages on weekends. This is different from making a demand, “you cannot message me on weekends.” The boundary is something you can control, while the demand is an attempt to control someone else. See the difference?
You might be asking yourself, “how do I arrive at a boundary?” The short answer? Get to know yourself. Once you begin to pay attention to your responses to the people and situations in your life, you will begin to notice areas that may benefit from placing a boundary. Also, having a gratitude practice can be surprisingly useful in this process. Notice any areas of resistance or resentment that come up. Those areas are likely candidates for some new or improved boundaries.
Let’s go back to the above example. If you find yourself feeling like you never have the chance to put work down, or maybe that your personal time isn’t respected, a boundary like not checking or responding to work emails on the weekends is a great solution. There are two boundaries in this scenario: A boundary that you are setting for yourself, “I will not check my work messages on the weekend” and a boundary that you are setting in regard to your colleagues, “I will not be responding to work messages on weekends.” This two-fold boundary allows you to protect yourself from overwork and serves as a protective measure against what you cannot control. If someone happens to message you anyway, you won’t be affected by it since you aren’t checking messages anyway.
What are some examples of Boundaries?
Boundaries are applicable in all situations and areas in our life. You can set boundaries around your time, your emotional labor, your relationships, and even your physical space. Once you assess your bandwidth in any given scenario, you become aware of what you’re able to accept and experience while keeping your needs tended to, energy balanced, and emotions safeguarded.
Relationship boundaries might look like:
“I do not stay in relationships where I am repeatedly disrespected.”
“I like to stay in touch with my partner daily, but I don’t have the bandwidth to text constantly all day.”
“I need one day per week to do things alone and enjoy my own company.”
Physical boundaries might look like:
“I do not like to give hugs, but I love making up fun handshakes or high-fives with people I care about.”
“I really enjoy kissing you, but that is all I would like to do with you.”
“I am uncomfortable with being approached from behind without verbal communication first.”
Boundaries are different for each person and can be very nuanced. When setting your own boundaries or coming up against someone else’s boundaries, communication is essential. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes we don’t get it right on the first try. However, with time you’ll learn the difference between someone adjusting to a set boundary and seeking to acknowledge it in comparison with someone who repeatedly disrespects your boundaries. Be patient and honest with yourself and be open to allowing your boundaries to evolve as you do. Over time you’ll find that with better boundaries, your ability to extend kindness, compassion, and understanding tends to expand as a result of your improved comfort and safety.
Are you ready to dive deeper into areas of your life that may benefit from new or improved boundaries? Let us help you with that. Book an appointment to speak with a licensed counselor today.