What is healthy personal boundaries about? We often hear that we don’t have boundaries, that we need to learn to say no, that we should stick to our guns, that we should respect someone else’s boundaries. However, the person making these statements very seldom actually explains what boundaries are, where to get them, or how to say no.
They don’t explain how important boundaries really are to us. They don’t tell us that our boundaries, or the lack thereof, determine how we treat ourselves and others, and how others treat us.
Therefore, the purpose of this blog is to look at what healthy boundaries are about, how not having them affects us, and how to start the process of setting healthy personal boundaries.
In this blog I will cover:
1. Dictionary definition of a personal boundary
2. What is a healthy personal boundary?
Personal boundaries are like the user manual for “You”. It is a set of “user” instructions that you set up. It tells people how to treat you, and how not to treat you. It warns them of consequences if they do not follow the instructions. It gives them guidance on how to have a long and loving relationship with you.
Another way to explain it would be to look at some properties that have a “No trespassing” or “Authorised entry only” sign hanging on the door, gate or fence. Normally the sign will also have a consequence written on it, something like – “Trespassers will be prosecuted” or “Fines apply”. It gives you a clear indication of what or who is allowed, and what will happen if the instruction is not adhered to.
Thus, a personal boundary is a set of rules around what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour from other people and yourself. Personal boundaries are in line with your values and beliefs, but they can also come into existence through conclusions, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning. For boundaries to be effective it needs to always have a consequence connected to it, and more importantly, you have to be willing to enforce the consequence every time.
3. Why have healthy personal boundaries?
Knowing what healthy personal boundaries are is the first step to understanding boundaries. The next step is to look at how having healthy personal boundaries can contribute to your life.
Having healthy personal boundaries builds your self-belief. It helps you to find out who you are and what you want out of life. It defines you as who you choose to be.
Personal boundaries help you to:
4. Types of healthy personal boundaries
It is important to understand that there are many different categories of boundaries, but each category is essential to ensure a happy, balanced and rewarding life.
Emotional boundaries help you to separate yourself from other people’s negative feelings, be true to yourself, and know that you choose your own feelings. They allow you to feel sad, angry, hurt, or fearful, without assigning blame.
Energetic boundaries help you to look after your energy, choose what kind of people you want to be around, and minimise contact with toxic people.
Material boundaries help you to determine whether you will give or lend things, and feel confident in telling people that you want them to look after your belongings.
Mental boundaries help you to be clear with your thoughts, values, beliefs and opinions. They enable you to listen to another’s opinion with an open mind, and respect their viewpoints and way of seeing the world.
Physical boundaries help you to know your personal space, privacy, sexual touch allowance, and body needs. It helps you to know what sorts of affection and touch you want, or don’t want, and how much space you want between you and others.
Sexual boundaries help you to know your comfort level with sexual touch and activity, and it enables you to say no in a relationship or with others.
Social boundaries help you to be comfortable in choosing your own friends, determine your own social activities, and be at ease with the different roles and/or relationships you have in life.
Spiritual boundaries help you to be comfortable with your spiritual or religious beliefs, know your core values, and feel no need to explain, justify, or rationalise your chosen belief system.
Time boundaries help you to know how much sleep and self-care time you need, and enable you to say no to time intruders.
Nina Brown, author of “Children of the Self-Absorbed” and other books divides each boundary into 4 more types:
People with spongy boundaries are unsure of what to let in and what to keep out.
Rigid boundaries prevent people from connecting with you, but more importantly it also prevents you from connecting with people.
5. Indications of unhealthy or no personal boundaries
When you have unhealthy or no personal boundaries you tend to:
6. Boundary quiz.
Would you like to have a look at your boundaries? The internet is full of boundary quizzes, but I will post a few links here to make it easier for you to try them.
7. Barriers to creating boundaries.
Once you decide to set healthy personal boundaries, it is important to know that the following issues may come up for you and that it’s normal. As you push through each one, you will feel more and more empowered.
8. How to create healthy personal boundaries.
Having healthy boundaries means “knowing and understanding what your limits are,” Dr Gionta.
Below, is the ten steps Dr Gionta suggests to build better boundaries and maintain them.
1. Name your limits.
To set your boundaries you need to identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits.
Dr Gionta’s advice, “Consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.” Those feelings help you identify what your limits are.
Use those feelings to setup a list of your limits per boundary type.
2. Tune into your feelings.
Discomfort and resentment are two key feelings that let you know that you are letting go of your boundaries. Dr Gionta suggests rating these feelings on a scale from 1 to 10. Consider 6 to 10 as being in the higher zone.
If during an interaction you find yourself in the higher zone, ask yourself, what is causing it? What about this interaction, or the person’s expectation makes you feel discomfort or resentment?
3. Be direct.
You may need to be more direct about your boundaries with people who have a different personality or cultural background. Consider the following example: one person feels that looking someone in the eyes proves honesty, but to another person this might feel threatening.
In a romantic relationship, you might also need to be direct. You may need to talk about how much time to spend together, and how much time you need apart to keep a sense of self.
4. Give yourself permission.
Fear, guilt and self-doubt are potential pitfalls.
“Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. So, give yourself the permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them” - Dr Gionta
5. Practice self-awareness.
Boundaries are all about feeling and allowing your feelings and honouring them.
When your boundaries start to slip or you notice that you are not sustaining your boundaries, Dr Gionta suggests asking yourself: “What’s changed? Consider: What I am doing or what is the other person doing? or What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed? Then, mull over your options: What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?”
6. Consider your past and present.
Your upbringing and the role you play in your family can also create obstacles to setting and maintaining your boundaries. For example, always being the caretaker, ignoring your own needs, and never speaking up, can be a challenge that needs to be overcome.
Think about your family, friends, colleagues. “Are the relationships reciprocal?”
Your environment might also be unhealthy. Do the people around you have boundaries, do they respect your boundaries?
7. Make self-care a priority.
Start by giving yourself permission to put yourself first. According to Dr Gionta, by doing this your need and motivation to set boundaries becomes stronger.
Through self-care you recognise the importance of your feelings and honour them. They serve as important cues about your well-being and about what makes you happy and unhappy.
Dr Gionta then goes on to say that, “self-care gives you the energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others and be there for them. When we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend”.
8. Seek support.
Don’t let setting boundaries overwhelm you Dr Gionta suggest that you should “seek some support, whether that’s a support group, church, counselling, coaching or good friends.”
There are also various books available on boundaries that can and will help you through the process. A list of some of these books can be found at the end of the blog post.
9. Be assertive.
You have to know that it’s not enough to create boundaries; you have to implement and maintain them.
Dr Gionta found that “Even though we know intellectually that people aren’t mind readers, we still expect others to know what hurts us.”
Therefore as mind reading is not possible, it’s important to practice informing people in a respectful way when they cross your boundary.
10. Start small.
Any new skill takes time and practise, communicating and asserting your boundaries is no different.
Dr Gionta suggests that you should “build upon your success, and at first try not to take on something that feels overwhelming. Setting boundaries takes courage, practice and support.” Don’t give up, it is worth it. You are worth it.
Start with a small boundary that you feel you can set, communicate and maintain. Then incrementally move to more challenging boundaries.
Don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate all your small wins, it creates the momentum for bigger wins.
Although I prefer DR Gionta’s method, here are links to some other methods of setting boundaries.
Books on Boundaries
Boundaries, By Dr Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Sons to Men A mother’s guide, By Anne Harvey
Where to draw the line, By Anne Katherine
Stop walking on eggshells, By Paul T. Mason & Randi Kreger
This blog is written by Lionie Fromentin to help clarify and deepen your understanding of the services provided by 360 Alignment. You will also find self-help tips, ideas and techniques to assist you to better manage stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.