Boundaries are an important part of our lives, allowing us to define our personal space and determine how we interact with the world around us. Healthy boundaries facilitate healthy relationships between ourselves and others, while unhealthy boundaries can lead to damaging behavior, negative interactions, and hypersensitivity to the influence and interpretation of others' words and actions.
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries refer to limits or guidelines set to protect ourselves from emotional harm, protect our values, and maintain healthy relationships with others. They help us define what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This can include setting limits on time, intimacy, space, and communication. Such boundaries define who we are as unique individuals and draw a line between us and the rest of the world.
Healthy versus Unhealthy Boundaries
A healthy boundary respects our own needs and those of others. It requires an understanding of our values, beliefs, and limitations. Here are a few characteristics of understanding and establishing healthy boundaries:
The ability to say "no" when necessary.
Firmly and lovingly, being able to say no is powerful because it allows us to maintain autonomy without losing the respect of another. Here are a couple of examples of healthy "nos."
Example 1: A request against values, beliefs, or goals. For example, you have decided to reduce your alcohol consumption to improve your mood and health. When your friend asks you to go out to the bar with them, you respectfully decline due to the temptation to drink.
Example 2: A request that jeopardizes your well-being. For instance, you've already worked a 60-hour work week, and your boss asks you to come in on the weekend to help them with a project on the weekend that is outside your job description.
Respectful of the feelings and wishes of others.
Instead of getting upset with individuals who don't respect our boundaries, attempting to alter their behavior, or shaming them, it's important to acknowledge that there may be a fundamental incompatibility in the relationship. By approaching the situation with kindness, we can assess whether we are willing to embrace their differences and maintain the connection without bitterness or lovingly choose to move on if we deem the relationship detrimental.
Clear communication about one's needs, wants, and preferences.
When we are confident in ourselves and live from a place of acceptance, we do not feel the need to explain more than is necessary, but we are also clear about what we need, want, and prefer.
For example, If I need/want/prefer to go to bed at a reasonable time, yet friends or family pressure me to stay out later than I am comfortable, I might simply say, "It's time for me to head home and to bed. My body lets me know its limits, and it's tired." This is a short and to-the-point message. There is no need to explain beyond that. If I feel inclined to explain further, it could indicate a lack of self-confidence because I need to prove my why.
Recognizing that we’re not responsible for others’ behaviors, emotions, or perceptions.
It's important to establish personal boundaries within ourselves. When we struggle with self-worth, we may be overly invested in others' lives. We might try to sway their opinions, encourage certain actions, and worry too much about how they perceive us and our choices. However, this is ultimately a fruitless and draining endeavor since we have no control over anyone else. Although we can influence them somewhat, we'll likely exhaust ourselves in the process, leading to further difficulties. Instead, it's best to set boundaries for ourselves and avoid meddling others' affairs, including their decisions, beliefs, and perspectives. After all, we wouldn't want someone else to interfere with our free will either.
Recognition that healthy relationships require balance.
Boundaries define what is acceptable in a relationship, creating a space for respect and understanding. Healthy relationships require each person to have an independent sense of self-worth while recognizing the importance of connection. We can cultivate balanced and equitable relationships by understanding our limits, values, and beliefs. Recognizing the importance of balance in relationships allows us to develop a sense of trust while respecting each other's autonomy as individuals. It is essential to recognize when one person is giving too much (or too little) energy in a relationship to find ways to create equilibrium.
Emotional Intelligence and Healthy Boundary Setting
Emotional intelligence is a critical element in establishing healthy boundaries. Emotional intelligence involves a high degree of self-awareness and empathy. A person with healthy boundaries must be aware of their feelings and emotions and recognize the impact of their actions on others. As such, a person with emotional intelligence can establish boundaries that positively impact them and those they interact with.
In today's world, the tendency to prioritize our needs over the collective good is becoming increasingly widespread. This mode of boundary setting can be detrimental to personal development, creating feelings of avoidance and hypersensitivity due to our egos taking control. An example of this behavior is what I refer to as "The DON'T boundary,” where we build an impenetrable wall around our psyche to prevent ourselves from confronting emotional wounds or day-to-day discomforts.
For instance, “Don’t criticize me;” “Don’t tell me anything I don’t want to hear;” “Don’t put me in an uncomfortable situation that would require me to check myself, my shortcomings, my beliefs, my fears, etc.”
When we get into this mindset that we should not be subjected to scrutiny or any form of living that isn’t in perfect alignment with what we want, we are harming ourselves because we lose the ability to be resilient and instead become hyper-sensitive to life.
Exposure to discomfort is a MUST for personal growth. So, rather than focusing solely on ourselves, we need to be aware of how our choices can affect others and strive to balance protecting ourselves and caring for the people around us. We must learn to step back from those tendencies from a place of fear and instead seek to find common ground where everyone's needs can be met.
This kind of compassionate communication requires us to let go of perfectionism, ego, and pride to open ourselves up to the possibility of growth through mutual understanding.
The Ego's Role in Unhealthy Boundaries
As humans, we have an ego that desires validation, reward, and recognition. Unfortunately, this ego can lead to unhealthy boundaries if we always believe we are correct or try to control others. When our ego fuels an unhealthy boundary, we try to protect our self-image or control others, which can prevent us from seeing their viewpoint and create an imbalance of power in the relationship.
Discerning between Selfish and Mutually Respectful Boundaries
Let’s keep this simple. You're on the right track if you set boundaries from a place of confidence and love without emotions like anger, hate, and animosity. However, if you are setting boundaries to protect yourself from dealing with strong emotions, scrutiny, or things you don’t like, you’re operating from the ego and causing harm to yourself and others.
Until we all come to terms with the fact that WE (individually) are either joyfully creating or destroying our own lives—not the forces outside of us—we will continue to justify, blame, and contribute to a toxic, self-centered world.
The choice is ours. Are you choosing to BE the change you wish to see, or are you too busy telling others what they need to change about themselves?