Setting boundaries is a vital part of our physical and emotional health. When someone recognizes the need to establish and abide by personal limits, it is empowering and works to protect self-esteem and self-respect. Unhealthy or inappropriate boundaries can result in emotional pain, codependency, anxiety, depression, and even stress-related disease.
Without healthy boundaries, anyone can intrude on your life – and psyche – at any time. But conversely, building too high of a wall can result in isolation and loneliness – which can be just as unhealthy.
Boundaries are rules and limits an individual creates to set reasonable, permissible, and safe ways for others to interact with them. They also set guidelines that outline an acceptable response when someone violates those limits. Boundaries are personal “property lines” no one can cross without consequence, although they can be challenging because they can’t be seen and are unique to every individual.
Personal boundaries determine the amount of physical and emotional space someone allows between themselves and others. They define what levels of communication and interaction are acceptable and what behaviors are tolerable.
There are many reasons people choose to establish boundaries for themselves.
- To practice self-care
- To cultivate self-respect
- To effectively communicate relational needs
- To allow space for more positive interactions
Two Types of Healthy Boundaries
Physical Boundaries: Physical barriers protect from unwelcome intrusions involving the body, sexual orientation, personal space, and privacy. Examples of violations of physical boundaries may include inappropriate or unwelcome touching, snooping into personal files and emails, or walking into someone’s office without knocking or asking for permission.
Emotional and Intellectual Boundaries: These boundaries protect self-esteem and avoid harm caused by someone else. Without limitations, exposure to external words, thoughts, and actions can leave someone feeling wounded and battered. Examples of violations of emotional and intellectual boundaries include allowing someone’s mood to affect your level of happiness, giving up on personal dreams to accommodate someone else’s desires, and blaming others for issues and problems with no personal accountability.
Why Do We Avoid Enforcing a Boundary?
Most people can quickly identify the boundaries they want to put into place, but few are adept at enforcing or upholding their own rules. People understand which behaviors trigger their emotional or physical response, yet are often reluctant to enforce their own rules – why is this? Mental health experts point to several reasons:
• Fear of rejection and abandonment
• Fear of confrontation.
• Guilt about setting rules for others
However, when someone commits to enforcing their boundaries, they enjoy elevated self-esteem and self-respect and can develop mutually trusting relationships.
Helpful Insights for Setting Healthy Boundaries
- When establishing guidelines, individuals should be clear, firm, and respectful. There is no need to justify the boundary, nor is there a reason to apologize. Apologizing sends a mixed message to those with whom you are communicating.
- You are responsible for communicating the boundary respectfully, but you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction.
- Someone who has been controlling, abusive or manipulative in the past might test the boundary. Expect them to do so, and remain steadfast in your resolve to enforce the boundary.
- Initially, you may feel guilty, embarrassed, or even guilty when establishing a boundary – the practice takes determination. Remind yourself that you have every right to ensure your own self-care.
- Create a support system of people who understand your needs in this area. Eliminate toxic individuals – those who want to abuse or control you – from your life.
If you often find yourself upset, angry, or hurt by the actions of others, you may need to set some boundaries in your life. Seeking the help of a professional mental health counselor can help you to identify your triggers and cultivate a plan to preserve and protect your mental and physical health.
Denise Schonwald is a licensed mental health counselor specializing in anxiety, depression, grief, behavioral issues, trauma, and family issues. If you want to explore coaching and counseling services for yourself or a loved one, click here to book a complimentary consultation.