Creating clear and healthy boundaries may well be one of the most crucial aspects of self-care. Some people argue that personal boundaries are even more important. I believe they go hand in hand, and that it’s not possible to address one without the other.
Personal boundaries are defined within multiple layers and meanings; and like every other aspect of self-care, they are completely unique to you.
The key to working with healthy boundaries involves defining these layers as clearly as possible for yourself and others. It is the act of defining that creates a boundary, and makes it crystal clear what you want to remove or keep in your life.
“Boundaries are a life enhancing system of ‘yes’’ and ‘no’s.’ They are stop signs and borders you install to protect yourself so that it is clear you own your life, make good choices, and pursue the authentic expression of who you are in the way you live, love, give and relate.” (3)
Personal boundaries are the emotional, mental, physical limits we set up to protect our sanity, and assert our individualism, while honoring the same in others. Some boundaries may be difficult to define at first, but the more you work with them the more solid they become.
Having a strong sense of boundaries is the same as having a strong sense of self. This is what makes it possible to identify who you are, what you need, your likes and dislikes, and what you will or won’t tolerate.
Without these types of definition, it’s easy to derive your sense of worth from others’ opinions. And it is too easy to allow others to treat you how they want to, based on their own needs instead of yours.
Remember the saying, “We teach people how to treat us!”
If you can’t seem to say ‘No’ to others, feel constantly overwhelmed, and get drained easily... then chances are you’re not setting up boundaries very well.
Those who haven’t set up strong personal boundaries often suffer from fear of rejection, or of being not good enough. And they usually attract people who disrespect and take advantage of them.
It takes practice to turn these patterns around, but it definitely can be done. It also takes time to learn to trust your instincts and respect your strengths, abilities and individuality. In fact, it is difficult to maintain boundaries without trust and faith in yourself.
It takes strength to stand up for what you want, but it’s a crucial part of enjoying wellness. When you learn to stand up for yourself, you feel a strong sense of empowerment and confidence.
Some people tend to lean towards pleasing others because they want others’ approval. They may feel a huge sense of obligation, guilt, and responsibility for other people’s needs.
This is a form of codependency, and the roots to this type of pattern can run deep into genetic heritage. There may even be a long line of role models who shamed self-expression, and discouraged any type of self-help.
In such cultures, it was common for someone (usually a woman, the oldest, or even the youngest) to assume the role of family caregiver; and forego common life events like schooling, career, or marriage in favor of caring for the elderly and children in the household.
At least one family member was expected to sacrifice these aspects of their personal life at the expense of caring for everyone else around them.
Customs and traditions can offer wisdom, but what this custom has failed to teach is that caregivers need sustainable systems in order to keep giving care. When the main providers of a household are drained to the point of no revival - everyone in the tribe suffers!
When the prime carer has more energy, clarity of thought, and is in good mental and physical health - then everyone will be happier and better cared for.
But tradition can also carry with it a set of rigid beliefs passed down the line, that were possibly not even meant to be so rigid.
Whether you are a caregiver of any kind, or just struggling to keep up with self-care in a demanding world, the answer is the same. When you take good care of yourself, it will affect every single relationship in your life in a positive way.
Your kids, spouse, friends, clients will reap the benefits; and you will be able to function more fully in general. The clarity of mind will also allow you to ‘work smarter, not harder’ instead of working yourself to the bone without anything to show for it.
And it goes without saying that it helps prevent burnout, chronic stress, and many other dysfunctions.
In order to solidify any type of boundary with others, it is necessary to develop your own style of assertive communication. As mentioned, boundary making is all about the process of defining and making clear.
This is often as simple as speaking up, rather than assuming that people already know the terms of things. Statements need not be harsh or abrasive, but rather firm and clear.
Most people really want to know what your needs and wants are, so that they can begin to negotiate them with their own needs/wants. Most people also crave to express their own needs, and this creates an opening to do so. The act of taking turns and truly listening to one another can define mutual boundaries.
In order to communicate with that degree of intimacy, you may share what you need, expect, agree or disagree to, are willing to commit to, and what the mutual arrangement will be.
Otherwise, people will have no idea what the boundaries are and they will fill in the blanks with their own assumptions. Many misunderstandings occur at this point, as people forget or neglect to mutually define the terms.
Three examples of approaches are passive, assertive, and aggressive. Most of us recognize that assertive communication is the middle ground of the three. But what that looks like in practice is unique to each situation. Experiment with different styles until you find what feels natural to you.
One example is to include active, problem-solving statements in your assertive communication:
“I would like to know a good time we can sit down to talk, as I have some things I need to say/express/address/etc.”
Instead of accusative statements like:
“You never listen to me” or “You don’t care how I feel.”
Being assertive requires patience and persistence. When you assert your personal boundaries, you’re sending a clear signal that you respect your space and expect others to do the same. And the best way to do that is to create your very own self-care plan as a way of enhancing your health, managing stress levels and boost your self-esteem.
References and Further Reading