What are Boundaries? Why are they important?
Have you ever felt like your kindness and generosity were taken for granted? Do you struggle to say what’s really on your mind?
This could be a sign that your personal boundaries need some attention.
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 “all or none thinking.” That is, we make irrational rules and conditions such as “if I don’t buy my friend a birthday gift then it must mean I am a bad friend who doesn’t care.”
The “all or none” distortion in this case is the irrational belief that we can’t be a caring, loving, and supportive friend while also recognizing that sometimes we forget birthdays or don’t have time to purchase a gift.
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, resentment, and frustration.
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.
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that causes a person to doubt their own beliefs, sanity, or memory. Learning the warning signs can protect you from this type of manipulation!
Boundaries can be either porous, healthy, or rigid. Ideally, we want to practice healthy boundaries. Below are the different boundary styles and examples of what each might look like.
How to Set Personal Boundaries
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.”
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.
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.
The Power of “I”
When expressing how you feel, be sure to use “I” rather than “you.” When we keep it about our feelings, it comes across much less threatening. Consider how the two statements below may be received.
- “You are being mean and hurtful. You don’t listen to me.”
- “I feel hurt by your words. I’m not feeling heard.”
Both statements are expressing the same feeling but in very different ways. It’s often not what we say but how we say it that matters most.
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 as this probably means personal boundaries need strengthening.
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