Strong personal boundaries – What do you know about it?
What are strong personal boundaries, and why are they necessary? You may find it interesting to know that you live in two locations. You live in the world outside and around you, but you also live in a world inside you. It is easy to set boundaries in the environment outside. You have doors and windows in your house that keep unwanted people out. You may have fences or palisades and even may have burglar bars. Your rooms have doors and keys, and you have drawers to store your belongings. These all enable you to decide who can enter your property or personal space.
But keeping unwanted people out of your inner space is much more challenging. There are no physical doors to the closet or drawers to lock. And although someone cannot physically enter your inner world, they can leave dirty tracks all over your inner territory. It is up to you to set firm personal boundaries to protect yourself. So, let’s look at personal boundaries.
What are strong personal boundaries?
A boundary is a perimeter that indicates where you end and another person begins. Imagine yourself as a bubble. Everything inside the bubble is you, and everything outside is not you. So, a border helps you know where you end and where others begin. It should provide clear guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in your relationships. Boundaries help you identify your world, responsibilities, and emotions instead of others’. It creates a safe space where you can be free to be yourself and act with integrity.
There are different types of boundaries. The most important ones are as follows:
Physical boundaries refer to your need for personal space. It includes your needs like rest, eating, and drinking. It also indicates how close you choose to be to others and how comfortable you are with touch. Examples are:
“I am very hungry. I need to eat something now.”
“If you touch me like that it hurts. Please stop that now”.
“You need to knock before you enter my room”.
Emotional boundaries are about your feelings and available energy. An important part is to know how much emotional energy you can give or can absorb from others. It includes your ability to understand when and how much emotion to share and with whom. You may say:
“I realize that you are having a tough time. However, I am not in a place to talk about it now. Can we discuss it later?”
“I am having a problem and really need to talk to you. Are you available to listen right now?”
“Now is not the right time to talk about that. So, can we do it tomorrow?”
It indicates how much time you are willing to invest in various situations. Time is valuable and should be respected. Examples are:
“Unfortunately I can only stay for an hour this afternoon.”
“We have family time on Friday. So, I won’t attend the party.”
“I feel disrespected when you are late. If it happens again, I will leave.”
Sexual boundaries refer to respect and understanding of preferences and desires. It also includes privacy and consent. You can say:
“That hurts. Please stop.”
“I do not like what you are doing now.”
“I do not want to have sex.”
It is about respect for your own and other people’s thoughts and opinions. Examples are:
“Please respect that we have different opinions.”
“This conversation is not productive. Let us agree to disagree.”
“I will not allow you to belittle my ideas. When you do that again, I will leave.”
Material boundaries refer to your possessions. It includes your house, your car, and other belongings. It also refers to the way you expect someone to treat your possessions. You can say:
“I prefer not to lend out my car. Please make another plan”.
“Please do not take my things without permission. Ask first.”
“Unfortunately I cannot give you more money.”
When you communicate clearly, other people will know precisely what you expect of them.
We must respect strong personal boundaries.
You set external boundaries to keep you and your belongings safe. If a motorist does not respect and obey the road rules, it may lead to accidents. You will not be safe on the road. In the same way, personal boundaries serve to keep you safe in your inner world. You use these guidelines to regulate your behaviour towards others and vice versa. So, strong personal boundaries help you to navigate the world.
Your boundaries enable you to allow people close to you or keep them at a safe distance. You may share personal information with a friend but not with a co-worker. Or you may be comfortable with a hug from your partner but not from your boss. The guidelines tell people how you want them to treat you. It is important to respect boundaries to ensure that your relationships with others are healthy.
When someone oversteps your boundaries, you may feel uncomfortable, triggering feelings of anxiety or anger. You may think that people use you or that you are not respected. Although you may state most guidelines mindfully and explicitly, some may just be unspoken expectations. Someone can overstep a boundary that you never voiced. You may be surprised at your emotional reaction until you can define the expectation behind it.
Setting boundaries are not easy, and sometimes the way you attempt to do it can even be unhealthy.
When boundaries are not healthy
You know now that personal boundaries are guidelines that indicate how you want to be treated. It also shows how you will treat others. It keeps you safe and enables you just to be yourself. However, sometimes people can use these “guidelines” for other purposes.
When rules are meant to control others, they do not count as boundaries. When a friend pressures you to do what she wants you to do, she wants to control you. It has nothing to do with your safety. An example is when your partner makes you feel guilty when you have fun with friends or criticize and blame you constantly.
It is also not healthy to set rules to avoid certain people or even uncomfortable feelings. Avoidance means that you do not communicate what you want or how you feel. An avoidant friend may minimize contact, have lots of rigid rules for the relationship or may not acknowledge your feelings.
Strong personal boundaries should enable you to live kindly with people around you. It requires mutual respect. When rules are set for selfish reasons, they are disrespectful to others. It does not take the other person into account. This person will not care about your needs. She will manipulate to get what she wants. Also, she may lack empathy and tend to be unkind.
These rules will not enable you to be safe. It does not represent healthy boundaries. So, where do you draw the line?
Where to draw the line
The purpose of boundaries is to separate yourself from others. Some people you may want close to you whilst others will be kept at arm’s length. However, when your thoughts, feelings and experiences become blurred with someone else’s, you have a boundary issue. You have an internal system to alarm you when someone infringes your boundaries. If you do not have healthy boundaries in place, the behaviors of others may leave you emotionally and physically exhausted. When you feel anxious and depleted when you spend time with a friend, it may be time to draw the line. Drawing the line means that you protect your physical and mental health. It sets you free to be yourself. And you are worthy of that.