“Good fences make good neighbors” ~ Robert Frost ~
What are boundaries? Boundaries define us as separate from others. Every living organism has a physical boundary that indicates they are unique. Boundaries are essential for our well-being and can even be essential for life. If they are harshly penetrated, the consequences can be grave.
Boundaries extend past our skin. We’ve all had an experience when our bubble has been invaded. Boundary invasions can be simple like someone standing too close in a grocery line or leaning a bit too close during a conversation. Although the intrusion is minor, it is noticeable. Also, our boundaries are exclusive and adaptable. In other words, every individual has a distinct comfort zone and most of us have a different boundary for a stranger than we do for a friend or lover.
Furthermore, boundaries are not just physical. They are also emotional, spiritual, sexual, and relational. They help us to know that we have our own thoughts, feelings, needs, perceptions, and worldviews. They help us to understand our relationships, and ourselves as well as to determine what treatment we are willing to accept as appropriate.
Why do we have trouble establishing and/or protecting our boundaries? One reason is that we might not know where our boundaries are. Another is that we are afraid of the consequences of protecting them (i.e., others will be angry or hurt, feel rejected, etc.). Sometimes we don’t assert them because we want to keep the peace and avoid conflict. Or, we may have difficulties because we did not have the opportunity as a child to learn how to create healthy boundaries.
Although creating and/or maintaining boundaries can be hard, it is never too soon or too late to begin strengthening them. You might be surprised how empowering it is. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
- Increase your awareness of your boundaries – Pay attention to your feelings. They are the best signal for letting you know that your physical or emotional bubble has been penetrated. Ask yourself what you are feeling and acknowledge that your feelings are valid. Also, notice your bodily reactions. Are your shoulders tense? Is your jaw tight? Do you have butterflies in your stomach? These could all be signs that your boundaries are being violated.
- Make others aware of your boundaries – We each have a responsibility to let others know when their actions are not appropriate. We can’t expect people to read our minds. Also, try not to assume that person’s intention was to be disrespectful. Be honest, specific, and calm when relaying what your boundaries are. Let the individual know what he or she is doing that is causing you to feel uncomfortable.
- Determine the consequences if your boundaries are not respected – This might initially be difficult if you haven’t previously done so. It will get easier as people start to recognize that you won’t let them walk all over you. Be sure to be serious when stating the consequences and follow through. For example, “If you continue to miss deadlines for our group projects, I’m going to have to find another partner”.
Good luck with your journey towards healthy boundaries and the realization that people will respect you for respecting yourself.
© Leanne Edwards, 2007