Boundaries: For When You Can’t Say No.
In this fast-paced and demanding world, it’s easy to lose touch with our beliefs, values, wants, and needs. Being attuned to these aspects of ourselves, however, is essential to setting healthy boundaries with others, and thus setting the stage for our general well-being.
Why are Boundaries Important?
Boundaries shape our identities and promote our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual safety. They allow us to define ourselves by showing where others end, and we begin. Boundaries help us know what we are and are not responsible for, and what we’re free and not free to do (i.e. when it’s okay to say “yes” or “no”). They keep the good in, and the bad out.
Examples of Boundaries
Our most basic boundary is our physical body. It’s the first way we learn that we’re separate from others in what we can do and when we do it. Our bodies welcome in nourishment, heal wounds, and are structured in such a way that our precious organs are protected. They also keep germs out and eliminate waste products.
Physical and sexual abuse are violations of this most basic boundary. Particularly when abuse occurs in childhood/adolescence, one may understandably struggle to recognize and implement healthy and unhealthy boundaries (of all kinds) later in life, which can sometimes perpetuate unhealthy relationship cycles (i.e. feelings of “stuckness”).
Boundaries in the mental, emotional, and spiritual realms can be less obvious than in the physical one; however, assertive (i.e. not passive nor aggressive) communication is a pathway to communicating our wants, needs, and limitations to others in a healthy way. The word “no” is an example of a boundary-setter.
Time & Space
Time and energy are limited, and when they are intensely devoted to others, we can lose our sense of self. Simply put, sometimes we need a break, and that’s okay.
The Open Meadow, The Brick Wall, and the Gated Fence
Health and wellness are largely about balance. Living life at the extreme end of almost any spectrum is likely to cause distress and “stuckness”, and the boundary spectrum is no exception.
We can liken fluid boundaries (unhealthy) to having a property with unlocked doors and an Open Meadow surrounding it- anything can get in and out, potentially damaging the home and harming its residents. The homeowners are at the mercy of external influences.
Rigid boundaries lie at the other extreme end of the spectrum and can be likened to building a Brick Wall around the property, locking the doors, and boarding up the windows of the home. Nothing can get in or out, including the homeowners (not so healthy when we, as humans, are hardwired for connection).
Healthy boundaries are a compromise between these two extremes, such as when homeowners build a fence with a gate to keep wild animals off their property, and they lock their doors to keep out uninvited guests. They still go on outings and invite trustworthy others over for coffee, dinner, game night, etc.
For some more specific examples of what Open Meadow, Brick Wall, and Gated Fence boundaries look like, please refer to the list below.
Signs of Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries
Blindly trust everyone. Trust no one without cause.
All-or-Nothing thinking (e.g. Spend all your energy for them & save nothing for you).
Black & White thinking (e.g. try to persuade others to think, feel, and behave exactly as you do, and get upset when they don’t).
Fall in love with anyone who reaches out, or rigidly isolate from everyone.
Risky sexual behaviours.
Be sexual for your partner and not for yourself.
Lacking awareness of unhealthy boundaries .
Accept gifts/gestures/invitations you do not want.
Believe others should anticipate your needs.
Fall apart so someone will take care of you or have a compulsion to take care of others.
Touching a person without asking.
Overly invested in what others “should” do with their lives.
Let others define you, direct your life, or describe your reality. Forego personal values to please others.
Act like a chameleon to fit in with others. Go along just to get along.
Self-abuse (e.g. critical self-talk, self-harm, disordered eating, risky behaviours).
Do not accept help from others and then having resentment.
Feel like you just endure your own company. Seek comfort or distraction when alone.
Be passive or aggressive in your communication with others.
Give someone an ultimatum.
Develop appropriate trust over time, based on merit.
Remember the importance of a middle ground (e.g. balance time and energy).
Tolerance for the Grey Area in life (e.g. respect differences. Connect with people in meaningful ways, even if you’re not the same).
Move step-by-step into intimacy. Build the relationship slowly.
Weigh the consequences.
Be sexual when you want to be sexual.
Notice (un-)healthy boundaries of others.
Decline gifts, gestures, invitations you do not want.
Clearly communicate your needs. Clarity is kindness.
Be in healthy interdependent relationships. Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you.
Ask a person before touching them.
Focus on your own growth. Let others do the same.
Take steps to learn who you are (i.e. what experiences have shaped your). Be comfortable with you.
Own your personal interests and opinions.
Build a network of good supports. Do things that nourish your body, mind, and spirit.
Recognize personal limits. Ask for & accept help.
Enjoy your own company. The company of others is an option, not a necessity.
Be assertive in your communication with others.
Express a bottom line.
We know that relationships are important and they can be very confusing too. If you notice that your boundaries are a bit out of whack, don’t worry we can help you. It is possible to enjoy yourself and others. Book your risk-free consultation today and find out how!
Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (1992). Boundaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.