What are Boundaries and How do we Maintain Them?
Updated: Aug 2, 2022
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries are an invisible line that creates a safe space between you and everything/everyone around you. Boundaries protect your physical space, emotional space and psychological/mental space. They help you maintain distance from things (usually people) that do not provide a safe environment for you. Boundaries are the rules or expectations you hold for others and yourself in order to maintain healthy relationships. They require effective communication and prioritization of self and the relationship, and they encourage others to prioritize you and the relationship as well.
What Do Boundaries Look Like?
Much like everything in life, boundaries can look different depending on the situation and your needs. Some common boundaries might be: Setting a boundary that you won't discuss politics at family dinner because everyone has a different opinion and you don't want a fight Having one night a week where you don't go out with friends in order to engage in your own self-care
Maintaining distance and not spending time with a family member who has harmed you
Speaking up for yourself at work and demanding respect from co-workers
Myths About Boundaries
Probably the most common misconception about boundaries is that they are somehow the other persons' responsibility. The truth is, while you may be establishing a boundary with someone else, what you're really doing is determining at what point you exit-stage-left if they can't maintain a safe space for you. Yes, you read that right. If someone isn't able to maintain your boundary, YOU are the one who needs to change the situation and enforce the boundary.
Example: Your parents are divorced, and your mom likes to bad-mouth your dad. The boundary might be your mom won't engage in bad-mouthing your dad in front of you. You effectively communicate to your mom that it causes you harm when she engages in this behavior and if she continues to do so, you won't be able to spend time with her. Now, one of two things will happen. She will either maintain the boundary (AWESOME!) or she won't. If she doesn't, it is appropriate at that time to enforce the boundary by distancing yourself (not spending as much time with her, forcing a change-of-subject and not allowing her to engage in that conversation, etc).
Another common misconception is that boundaries push others away. Quite the opposite! Boundaries provide a structure for the relationship and show the other person you value yourself, them, and the healing/safe space around you. While appropriate and effective boundaries might push away people who don't want to hold your boundaries or prioritize your needs, they will absolutely encourage healthy, steady people to remain in your life. People who truly value you will not see you as demanding or rude; instead they will respect and appreciate the importance you place on your own mental/physical health.
You should only have boundaries with "bad" people. Truthfully, you should have clear boundaries with everyone in your life. Whether it's requiring clear and effective communication, setting boundaries for children, expecting respect from your partner, or requiring an employer to treat you with respect, you should have boundaries within all of your relationships. They will look different from one relationship to another, but they should always be present. I would argue the absence of boundaries lends itself to co-dependent relationships, ineffective communication and anxious/avoidant relationship styles. Healthy boundaries are a part of every interdependent (healthy) relationship. The boundary has to be in place forever. While in some cases this might be true (expecting your partner to respect you, demanding clear communication in a relationship), other boundaries may be temporary (having your child be home by 10pm on a school night; asking friends to not talk about babies after you've had a miscarriage). Some boundaries might fade over time as you become emotionally regulated and more assertive in relationships, and some boundaries may change and flow as the relationships themselves change.
What Maintaining a Boundary Says About You......
I was having a conversation with a client today (hence the blog!) and during our conversation we talked about the concept of how maintaining a boundary is directly tied to self-worth/self-efficacy. Think about it. If you don't maintain your own boundaries what you're really saying to yourself is, "I'm not worth it. I'm not valid." Maintaining appropriate boundaries, even when it's difficult, means you recognize and prioritize yourself and your safe, healing space. It also sends a message to others that you won't tolerate bullshit and will require them to respect and appreciate you. It also helps you to learn to prioritize self and is a building block of establishing high self-worth and self-esteem.
What Maintaining a Boundary (Or Not!) Says About Them.....
When you set a boundary, it is expected the other person (or people) maintain it. They don't have to like it, or agree with it. But if they respect you, they should recognize why you have set the expectation and they should make a concerted effort to maintain that boundary. If they don't, then quite frankly that shows what little regard they have for you and your mental/physical health. It also says a lot about them. Whether it's due to their own mental illness or just a blatant disregard for you, it shows they don't have your best interests at heart and are not able to maintain a safe and healing space for you. While this is unfortunate, and ending/restricting relationships is never easy, it is important to recognize the space someone holds in your life and eliminate those who aren't truly there for you. Part of having a healthy and happy mindset is only allowing and holding space for relationships that add value to your life and not watering dead plants that never provide safety for you. Boundaries are an important aspect of relationship building and self-space/preservation. If you find you're struggling with boundaries within relationships please reach out for a free consult!