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Healthy Boundaries

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

It’s important to note that boundaries are really about honouring each other. They protect our relationships and interactions from becoming unsafe. Boundaries are points of connection, not separation. They deepen intimacy, professional navigation, respect, trust and positive regard. Healthy boundaries are the result of a healthy self esteem. Good boundaries also serve to strengthen self esteem. Boundary setting and ability is crucial in conflict management scenarios as well. Please feel free to browse through the other articles and worksheets about boundaries, self esteem and conflict management on the resources tab of this site for further information on these topics

Personal Responsibility

Neediness is a common indication of difficulty around personal boundary setting. On every part of the neediness spectrum this is most poignantly demonstrated with another interlinked pillar of self esteem: personal responsibility. Knowing when and how to take responsibility for your own actions, feelings and reactions makes you a lot more confident and secure in your personal relationships. It also gives you a greater sense of where to draw your lines and of when your values are in danger of being violated. Being able to take responsibility for your own behaviours and emotions builds self respect, credibility and the ability to avoid carrying these weights for other people (which only hurts them more as well)

Example 1: Relationship jealousy

i) You guilt trip your partner about watching soccer at the pub because you feel insecure. You are just making your fear and powerlessness worse by not owning your own emotional well being, while also violating your partner’s personal freedom. Rather discuss your reasons for feeling insecure, without making your emotions their problem or using emotional manipulation. Control is not love but a little insecurity is perfectly natural and normal

Example 2: The “nice guy”

i) Adam fanes friendship in order to “earn” your romantic or sexual favour. If Adam lies about his intentions when confronted or feels entitled to your favour at any point, this sleaze has mistaken you for a commodity instead of a human being. He is tryng to force you to be responsible for his feelings and actions. He is also disregarding the possibility of you having thoughts or feelings of your own

ii) Bill, and Bill could even be your boyfriend, buys or does things for you after you have said no or expressed your discomfort with this. Bill is not respecting your boundaries or doing any of it for you. If Bill then goes further to hold these unwanted actions of his over you emotionally or coercively then he might just be a “nice guy”. Instead of taking responsibility for himself or considering you sincerely, he is trying to shift the responsility for who he is, how he feels or what he does onto you

iii) Charlie from the office gets angry or feels it’s acceptable to hurl insults at you when you refuse his advances. The most pathetic Charlies even repeat their advances after inflicting this kind of behaviour and are then genuinely surprised when you refuse them again. The reason behind this confounding logic is that they are every bit as dehumanising as the characters who think a women’s affection can be earned. Neither are able to understand that you hold your own thoughts, opinions or feelings. Don’t take on the responsibility these lowlifes are unable to carry for themselves. Not that you would

Example 3: Saturday morning yoga class

i) This is something you do for social status instead of any real desire to do yoga or connect with your friends. It’s an inauthentic expression of self, displaying the kind of self-esteem damaging neediness typical to weak boundary setting. You are not taking responsibility for yourself by not even being yourself.

ii) You blame your teacher or an annoying co-attendee for your poor progress instead of taking responsibility for yourself. You are not respecting yourself or actions by doing this.

iii) You feel guilty about going to class because your partner feels lonely when you leave each week. Feeling guilty, like being dishonest, is here, the result of being inauthentic. Taking responsibility for yourself would deal with the guilt. For example: An honest conversation with your partner could provide a more salient compromise, address their unease, transfer the weight of responsibility for their emotions back to them (helping both of you), or simply resolve the ambivalence even when no mutual understanding is reached. You exercise respect for yourself and your partner through engaging honest discussion (healthy boundary setting)

Trying to control others inappropriately- that is disrespecting another’s separate humanity (autonomy), personal values and right to privacy- is the result of an inability to take responsibility for oneself and maintain healthy boundaries. No one wants to be THAT person. Another result is the codependence, referred to as neediness above, born from the need to find validation and acceptance externally in other people. These unattractive weaknesses erode your sense of identity and security but. BUT. Don’t be too hard on yourself or too ashamed to confront these kinds of realities when they do crop up. Overcoming these kinds of growing pains, oftentimes repeatedly, is just a normal part of maturing into a fierce force of nature. We’ve all been there. Bravely accepting and challenging such things is the only way to come out with a character of your own choosing. It’s the most worthy path toward having any kind of self determined control or independence in this respect

Your boundaries serve as a tool for maintaining your levels of comfort and determining how you are treated by others. They are a means of honouring yourself and knowing what respect those around you are capable of. Character is fate. This is how you read it and this is one of the ways you manifest your own character as well

“It is important in setting boundaries to identify your basic human rights,” says Judith Belmont, mental health author and licensed psychotherapist

  • Common boundaries are usually around digital privacy; digital conduct; beliefs; possessions; public affection; physical space; emotional space; frequency, tone or lines of communication; sexual parameters; expectations on your time; physical safety; personal values; and priorities

  • How someone treats your boundaries tells you how they will treat you. Your front door serves as a boundary. If someone breaks it down, you know there’s a problem. Sometimes we may feel that our boundaries are unreasonable, but if you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable, something is wrong. If your boundaries are repeatedly violated, something is wrong

  • Boundaries are unique to each individual and don’t need to be the same between any 2 people. The structures which ensure your emotional and mental health are not the same as the structures which uphold someone else’s mental and emotional stability

  • Boundaries can change and be reassessed over time as long as they are done so by genuine choice and not force, pressure or manipulation from another person

  • You can have different boundaries with different people. Just as your levels of comfort and trust waver from person to person, so may your boundaries

  • Poorly communicated or poorly respected boundaries lead to anger, resentment, distrust and burn out. This is particularly pertinent in our professional lives

  • Just as exploitation and violation are often the results of boundaries that are too loose, overly rigid and inflexible boundaries can be problematic as well

  • If you’re unsure, ask. “Is it alright if I give you a hug?” “May I ask you a personal question?” This kind of respect will likely be appreciated and set you apart as someone who is safe and trustworthy to be around

  • Boundaries uphold autonomy, self care and human rights such as the right to dignity and the right to privacy

Communicating your Boundaries

"Say ‘no’ simply but firmly to something you do not want to do. Do not feel that you need to explain" (Kairns, 1992). Not over explaining is a crucial aspect of setting boundaries, as everyone has the right to determine what they do and do not want to do.

  • Frame your needs in terms of yourself. Your boundaries are personal to you and are reflections of your relationship with yourself. Instead of asking someone to back off a bit, rather tell them that you function better with more space

  • Your boundaries need to have consequences attached to them. State the reasons your boundaries are important. “I function better when I am able to recharge” or “Space is important for maintaining my mental well being”. Now the person you have communicated this to knows that you will have to choose between your wellbeing or ability to function and their disregard if your needs are not valued. They can further the discussion if your needs are in conflict. So long as they are not denying or refusing your assertions (in which case ideas like ‘boundaries’, or your ‘well being’, might be completely lost on them anyway), this is healthy

  • It’s important that you communicate sincerely and fully intend the consequences you lay out. Be kind but firm. Threats and dramatics will not serve your boundary setting endeavours. Ultimatums are similarly counter productive