Setting healthy boundaries is one of the most important things we can learn, and one of the most important things to teach our children.

I think people often confuse setting healthy boundaries with being aggressive or manipulative. In truth, a healthy boundary is neither one of these. Healthy boundaries serve the function of keeping you, and others within your interpersonal communication, safe.

So what is a boundary?

Simply put, it is the limit you can set on what you will accept of another person’s words or actions.

So why are boundries important?

Well, people are able to interact more freely and may feel more secure within the interaction, if there are clear guidelines i.e. boundaries.

To expound on this, we (and I refer to the collective we as the general population), are not crazy about the unknown. This fact plays out in our interpersonal communication as us wanting to be able to know how others will react to us. ie knowing, or being able to predict, how others will respond to us makes us feel more at ease – and interaction with others is more enjoyable.

Not knowing what to expect in a situation, results in our primary survival reactions coming out to play. Our primary brain says, “the unknown means possible danger”. This makes us feel more aware, resulting in the interaction not being as easy or enjoyable.

So generally speaking boundaries are the limits we decide to set for ourselves.

Different kinds of boundaries

Let’s complicate this a wee bit by saying there are also different kinds of boundaries. They may be personal boundaries, which consist of the following:

  1. Emotional – where I end and you begin
  2. Mental – thoughts, values, options and beliefs
  3. Physical – who, how, where and when others make contact with us
  4. Material- these boundaries include your belongings, your time and your labour
  5. Spiritual – this refers to your beliefs about God and your place in the universe

All of these are important, as generally speaking when others overstep our limits, it results in us feeling disrespected, unheard or unsafe. Any of these can result in interpersonal and personal conflict in our lives.

The million dollar question is, “how do I know if I have unhealthy boundaries?”

Here is a checklist which points to some of what you might experience, should you battle to set healthy boundaries in your life:
  • You battle with difficult relationships
  • You battle to make decisions
  • You hate to let others down
  • You experience a lot of guilt and anxiety
  • You always experience people as draining
  • You over or under share – leaving you feeling vulnerable in relationships
  • You always end up being the victim of situations
  • You are often annoyed by people
  • You often feel disrespected by others
  • You fear being abandoned or rejected

Recognise some of these? Maybe all of them? Now what?

I always suggest to clients that before they begin any kind of self-exploratory work they have to be sure of the reason to do the work.

How come, you ask? Well, the thing is, often we start something with the best intentions, and then it gets a wee bit tricky, and then we stop. Getting us nowhere, or maybe just strengthening our belief that there is not much that we can do to help ourselves, or that it is just too difficult to make a change and so on and so forth (I am sure you recognise some of this thinking). If you start with a reason to do the work, this will help you to see it through when things get a bit sticky or tricky.

Can’t think of one? Let me give you just one good one. No boundaries means poor self esteem and all the baggage that comes with it. Need I say more?
So working on your boundaries will automatically boost your self esteem. It will also improve your interpersonal relationships at home, at work and in the universe at large!

Ok so – you are ready and on-board, so now let’s go set some boundaries!

Well here comes the cliche. As I always tell clients when we are working with boundaries…. “It all starts with you”. For if you are unclear on your own core values, then you will battle to set clear boundaries with others. Thus when doing such work, we normally begin with self-awareness and giving yourself permission. The intention being to become aware of your feelings, and get honest with yourself about what feels comfortable for you and what is uncomfortable and to consider your past and present, when exploring your limits – making self-care a priority.

A possible intention behind this exploration of self could be that “nothing changes if nothing changes”. Including that you can’t change others – making it probable that it is a better solution to try and make the change within yourself.