Though the word ‘boundaries’ is often used in the context of relationships – familial, friendly or romantic – it’s really all about you. Boundaries can be seen as our individual guidebooks – they outline our likes, dislikes, comforts and ways we like to be treated. Your boundaries reflect your relationship with yourself – your needs, wants and feelings. They apply to all emotional and physical aspects.
What do boundaries sound like? Saying “I keep weekends for personal time with family and friends only” or “I’m comfortable with some touching, but I want to take it slow” is a form of expressing your boundaries.
How do you figure out what your boundaries are? Pay attention to how you respond or react to different situations or behaviors. What makes you comfortable, what annoys you and so on – these are all indicators of your boundaries. Spend some time with yourself and engage in some deep self-talk. Write down your thoughts or notes for the future. It’s really all about figuring you out. If you think it may be beneficial, find a trusted individual to help out.
How do you communicate your boundaries? Talk about them! Tell others what you’re comfortable with. If someone does something you like or don’t like – tell them. Say, “I like it when…” or “I’m not comfortable when…”. Use “I” statements to keep the conversation focused on your feelings and needs in a situation.
What happens when boundaries are not respected? A lack of respect in relationships leads to someone feeling hurt, unvalued, unsatisfied and possibly unsafe. Be open and honest – communicate to go over the what, how and why of the situation. Work to move forward together.
If you feel like you can’t talk to someone and express your feelings, that is a telling sign on the nature of your relationship. Boundaries are ways of honoring and respecting yourself – if they are being constantly broken, it may be time to remove yourself from the situation. There is no shame in wanting to distance yourself from someone or something that makes you uncomfortable.
The same goes for others – if you want someone to respect your boundaries, you have to respect theirs.
Are boundaries permanent? As we grow and change, it’s likely our boundaries will too. We have a right to change our boundaries, remove or add new ones, according to our experiences and relationship development. As we get closer to someone, we may be okay doing something that we wouldn’t have done initially when we first met. The same goes for in situations where our loved one’s needs take priority (for example, a loved one needing comforting) – that’s being supportive and honoring your relationship. In some situations, you may feel okay adjusting your boundaries to make room for someone you care about, their likes and dislikes – that’s perfectly fine. The key is to feel confident and secure in your boundaries and the changes you make to them, any uneasy feelings need to be checked and evaluated.
It’s important to ensure that you aren’t adjusting your boundaries at your expense. If you are constantly expected to compromise, put other’s needs above your own and adjust your boundaries accordingly – that’s not growth, it’s pressure. And more often than not, such situations of constantly overstepping our boundaries lead to feelings of low-energy, exhaustion and may have a negative impact on mental health.
How do boundaries differ from expectations? Boundaries and expectations are often mixed, due to their similar nature. After all, they greatly impact how we interact in a situation. However, boundaries are often more loving and set in place to help protect and honor you, whereas expectations often involve projecting onto others or a particular outcome.
Expectations can be attached to an element of ‘control’ or wanting to ‘change’ someone else for our benefit. When we take our ‘shoulds’ and project them onto some else in the form of our ‘expectations’, we set ourselves up for disappointment and dissatisfaction. We can never truly control an outcome or another person – only our approach to them.
I like to keep weekends as personal time for family and friends, it helps me relax- this is a boundary.
We have to keep weekends as personal time for family and friends, it’s rude if you don’t – this is an expectation.
Can boundaries be unhealthy? In cases where your boundaries move away from you and become dependent on other people or things, they can become harmful. For example, I always need a second opinion from my family / friend in order to feel confident in my decision. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or an opinion, however, to be unable to make a decision without this – that is dependency.
Unhealthy boundaries can be seen in relationships that are overly co-dependent or abusive. It involves feelings of a person feeling they need to constantly prioritize someone else over themselves, feeling like they are never good enough, and are at the whim of another’s emotions, wants and needs.
Healthy boundaries involve embracing and understanding your individuality. They reinforce your power and autonomy, enabling you to take responsibility for your actions and emotions. Boundaries allow you to gain a deeper sense of acceptance and respect – for yourself and others.