What are Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the rules we set for ourselves within relationships. Healthy boundaries mean preventing others from projecting their beliefs and judgements onto you.

A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others and not feel guilty for doing so. This is not as easy as it sounds. 
Many of us have the cognitive distortion of “all or none” thinking. That is, we make irrational rules and conditions such as “if my mom calls me and I don’t feel like talking then I must be a bad son who doesn’t really care.”

The “all or none” distortion in the above example is that we can’t be loving and supportive while also allowing ourselves to do what we want or need for our own well being.

Boundaries should be based on your beliefs and values (i.e., the things that are important to you). These may not align with the beliefs and values of others–but that is okay. After all, they are YOUR boundaries.

When a client, patient, loved one, stranger, close friend, or family member begins attacking you with hurtful comments, it is only natural to become defensive, frustrated, and insecure.

We might even begin questioning our own abilities and intentions.

Our personal boundaries become violated when we allow the opinions of others to negatively influence our beliefs about ourselves. This is when we become vulnerable to manipulation.

It is essential to set limits and personal boundaries for yourself. Your needs are just as important as anyone else’s. By giving others the power to hurt us, we lose our sense of self and become resentful, angry, and lost. 

When you find yourself asking, “who am I?” it usually means your personal boundaries have faded. 

Don’t fall into the trap of believing we can’t be compassionate and supportive unless we allow others to walk all over us. This way of thinking is very unhealthy for everyone involved. 

So how do we set personal boundaries?

Be Prepared: Before entering a situation where boundaries might be violated, set boundaries for yourself explicitly. For example, if you have to interact with someone who is very critical or condescending, tell yourself “if I feel disrespected or judged then I will concisely state my feelings without having to explain and then respectfully remove myself from the conversation.”

Plan Ahead: Think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it prior to a difficult encounter. This will help boost confidence in yourself.

Be Clear: You always have the right to express yourself. When you do, make sure it is clear and without ambiguity. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

Here are some examples of how to express yourself clearly:

  • “Please don’t speak to me that way.”
  • “I’ve decided not to ___”
  • “I’ve decided to ___”
  • “I feel belittled by you and that will not work for me.”
  • “I appreciate your opinion but I disagree with you.”
Use Confident Body Language and a Respectful Tone: Face the other person, make eye contact, and use an appropriate volume of speech (not too loud or too soft). Be respectful but don’t shy away from stating how you feel. Many people don’t like confrontation and they will avoid stating their beliefs lest others will get upset, angry, or defensive. Quieting your own voice is another way of saying “I don’t respect myself. My feelings don’t matter. I don’t matter.”
Compromise when appropriate: You don’t have to compromise. But consider listening to the others’ points of view and appreciate their needs as much as possible. Healthy relationships require “give and take.” But when you find yourself giving more than taking, make note of it. Relationships are two way streets…always.
To read more, check out our post on How to Support Toxic People.

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