What are Boundaries?
In the traditional sense, a boundary is a distinctive line marking off where one thing ends, and another begins. Personal boundaries are essentially the same thing; a clear distinction between where you end and other people begin. This concept can also be thought of as your comfort zone. Everything within your boundaries is something that you’re comfortable with, while things outside your boundaries are things that make you uncomfortable. Odds are, you’ve had an experience with boundaries in some form or another, even if you aren’t aware of it. Maybe you’ve had a coworker ask you about your political opinions, but you think politics shouldn’t be discussed at work. Maybe you’ve had someone tell you they borrowed a personal belonging of yours while you were away, but you prefer to be asked before allowing others to use your things. Maybe your partner asks you to take the next step in your relationship, but you’re perfectly happy with things staying as they are for now. These are just some examples of the different types of boundaries you may have experienced.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Identifying and establishing personal boundaries can help you have a more concrete identity, strengthen your relationships, and protect you from being taken advantage of by others. Knowing your boundaries goes hand in hand with knowing your values and feeling confident in who you are and your decisions. People with similar boundaries to yourself will likely respect yours without you having to state them, but not everyone will know what your boundaries without being told. When it comes to people you’re close with, they care about you and want to treat you well, but they may not necessarily know how to do that. When people cross our boundaries, we also tend to harbour feelings of anger and resentment towards that person, so it’s essential to express what they are to create more stable and healthy relationships. In identifying your boundaries, you will also be better able to tell when people are crossing them and making you uncomfortable. If you consider yourself a people-pleaser, you’re probably used to having your boundaries crossed without even really realizing it’s happening. Knowing your boundaries can better protect yourself from external pressures and situations with which you’re uncomfortable.
Types of Boundaries
We can break down personal boundaries into different types for ease of understanding. These types are usually material boundaries, emotional boundaries, mental boundaries, and physical boundaries. Material boundaries are your comfort level regarding your material possessions. Material boundaries can be what you’re willing to lend to people and who you’re willing to lend it to (have you ever borrowed a piece of clothing from a sibling without asking first and had them get really mad at you?) Emotional boundaries are the separation between what you consider to be your emotional responsibility or the emotional responsibility of others. This type of boundary can help prevent you from unhealthy emotional experiences like giving or accepting unwanted advice or giving or accepting unnecessary blame. Mental boundaries include your personal thoughts and your right to have your own values and beliefs. And physical boundaries include who you are comfortable having physical contact with, what types of contact, and in what situations, both sexual and platonic.
How to Establish Boundaries
The first step in establishing boundaries is identifying what your boundaries are. If you don’t know what your comfort levels are, you won’t be able to express them to anybody else. A helpful way to identify your boundaries is by thinking about your thoughts about the various types of boundaries and thinking of different situations where these boundaries would apply. There are also resources online that give examples of different situations to analyze your response to identify your boundaries. Once you know your boundaries, you can begin establishing them however you think is best for you. This can be in the form of a conversation with someone you’re close to, telling them the boundaries you’ve identified and now wish to set. Another way is to get comfortable stating your boundaries in the moment you feel they’re being crossed. If you’re someone with poor boundaries or are new to setting boundaries, it can be really challenging to work up the courage to tell somebody that they’ve crossed your boundary. You can start with telling someone you trust to build your confidence with stating your boundaries. Boundaries typically aren’t the same across the board and will change with the circumstance and people involved, so being able to address them as they come up is a valuable skill. While establishing your personal boundaries, you should always remember, as well, that as important as it is for you to have your own boundaries, it’s also important to be aware of the boundaries of others as well and show theirs the same respect that yours deserve.
Wellbeing blogs are written by the SAMU Wellbeing Assistant, Lauren Rundell.