It’s only been in the past few years that we’ve started talking about personal boundaries. In my experience, when it comes to personal boundaries people fall into two camps. Those who hold their personal boundaries as inviolate. And those who tend to be so flexible as to make the boundaries virtually pointless. For myself, I’ve only realized the true value of having boundaries recently. And yet I find them incredibly hard to keep.
What Are Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are a lot like physical boundaries. In that, behind the boundary line is a delineated area which we will not let anyone cross. It’s a space personal to you and which is for yourself only. Physical boundaries are widely understood as a line you cannot cross literally. Whether a boundary of a property or someone’s personal space – the appropriateness closeness as defined by society. Personal boundaries will depend on each individual person. And therefore cannot be taken for granted in any given situation. Personal boundaries may include how you do or do not let people speak to you. Whether or not to keep someone in your life if the relationship is toxic. Or even saying yes or no to a situation if you’ve got previous experience. Of course, personal space and touch are also an example of persona boundaries.
Where physical and personal boundaries differ most is how people respect them. Most people understand the concept of physical boundaries; but not personal ones. Physical boundaries are the norm. Whereas personal boundaries can be accompanied by stigma. These stigmas include viewing people who maintain and reinforce their personal boundaries as uptight, inflexible or even selfish.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Having personal boundaries is important for our overall wellbeing. They proscribe which lines you will not let people cross when it comes to numerous areas of your life. Everyone’s personal boundaries will be different. There’s no one size fits all. So, it’s important to give some time to thinking about what your personal boundaries may look like. How flexible you may be with them. This could depend on whom the situation involves or what the situation is. And the awareness that it’s normal for your personal boundaries to change with time. This may be due to a reshuffle in your circumstances, your age or your values.
Defining Your Comfort Zone
The maintenance of personal boundaries helps one define their comfort zones and what they are or are not happy with. This is a clear pathway to investing in ones wellbeing and avoiding situations which might adversely impact one’s mental health. The same applies to the people in one’s life and how we wish to be spoken to and respected. When we are surrounded by people we are comfortable with it makes sense that our wellbeing increases. And the opposite is also true. Being forced into situations we do not enjoy or around people we do not feel safe with can jeopardize our wellbeing.
Defining & Investing in Ourselves
Boundaries can also impact how we form our identity by helping define our values. If we hold truth to be incredibly important, then our boundaries may include a zero tolerance for lying. And any people or situations which may include dishonesty need to be rejected by us. Likewise, if kindness is important to us then we are likely to put ourselves in and surround ourselves with people who feel similar. And be wary of people who we find unkind to ourselves or others.
Lastly, boundaries can help us actively invest in our own mental health. Whilst some boundaries reduce the number of situations or relationships we are uncomfortable with; thereby having a passive positive impact on our mental health. By reinforcing boundaries around prioritizing self-care we positively impact our mental health. Additionally, less time spent in situations we do not enjoy provides more time for hobbies, exercise and sleep to boost our mental health.
How to Hold Boundaries
#1 Think First.
To create your boundaries and then reinforce them, in order to keep them, you need to know why they’re important to you in the first place. Whether you have boundaries in place yet or not, put some time aside to check in. Think about what is important to you that you’d like to safeguard. Or think about times when you’ve become upset in the way someone has related to you or treated you. Or times you’ve felt forced into a situation you didn’t enjoy. These are good indications that your boundaries have been crossed. Or that you need to have a boundary there. When your boundaries are important to you and based on your values, you’re more like to stick to them.
For 4 Ways to Check In With Your Mental Health read here.
#2 Be A Boundary Detective.
We can work out when we need to hold a boundary by analysing how we feel in a given situation. You can do this ahead of time by thinking about past situations. But you can do it in real time too. Look out for times when you have a feeling of discomfort. Perhaps when you’re saying yes to something, when you really mean no? Or when someone says something and it doesn’t feel right? These are all signs that a boundary could be needed in these situations or with these people.
#3 Start Small.
Like with all new habits, hobbies or practices, too much too soon is a recipe for failure. Once you’ve defined you’re boundaries, choose one to start off with. If boundaries aren’t new to you, but you wish to strengthen them, do the same. Start off with the one which is most important to you. If you’re unsure which one this is, it’s probably the one you have the strongest reaction to when crossed. Or the one which is likely to happen most often. Commit to strengthening or applying this one boundary over a 2-3 week period. Once you can easily apply it, without thought, then choose another one and repeat the practise. Applying or reinforcing one boundary at a time well help you build up a group of strong boundaries. Rather than multiple but too flexible ones.
#4 Gain Understanding & Respect.
It will be easier to maintain boundaries if those around you understand what you’re trying to do. Often we are overly flexible with our boundaries for fear of being thought selfish or intransigent. To help with this, explain to your nearest and dearest – whether friends or family – what you’re trying to achieve and why. This can help circumvent any worries you may have about how you may be perceived for holding your boundaries. Also, by explaining to others why you’re doing it, you’ll clarify for yourself too. When we know why things are important to us it’s easier to hold strong in our beliefs or practices.
For How to Navigate the Need to Feel Heard read here.
Similar to the idea above. When you’ve explained to people what you’re doing they can help you stand strong. At times when you may decide to give up on your boundaries, they can remind you of what you’re trying to achieve. Studies have shown that, when we try and create new habits, telling other people is a great way of helping us stick to them. We don’t want to be perceived as giving up. So, we’re more likely to stick with it. You don’t need to tell everyone, or ask many people to help you out. But if there is someone who could be in that position to gently give you a nudge in the right direction or some inspiration when you’re struggling. It’s a really great idea.
And take a breath. If you feel a boundary being pushed, take a moment. When we pause in uncomfortable moments it can feel like an age to us. But it’s really only seconds in reality. Remember this. No one is wondering why you’re not talking or what’s wrong. It’s likely they’ve not noticed. Use this knowledge to give yourself time to think first before you answer. Rushing into an answer or situation is likely to cause our boundaries to be too flexible. Instead, give yourself the time to remember why you have the boundary in the first place. And what you’re trying to avoid. This will give you the resolve to stand strong and reassert your boundary.
#7 Dip Your Toe.
Asserting boundaries can feel like a monumental task. As above, make sure you take it slow and you’ve thought about why you’re doing it. But even so, we may find it difficult at first or continue to find it difficult with certain people or in certain situations. Even when we’ve mastered this boundary elsewhere. When needed it’s ok to dip your toe in the water and assert your boundary to a certain degree. It’s not a failure to only commit partially to the boundary; rather than fully whilst we’re learning. For example, a boundary for me is needing to say ‘no’ more often. I say yes too quickly and regret it later. But no has always been hard for me. To begin asserting this boundary I settled for ‘maybe later’. It felt less final than ‘no’ and was easier for me whilst I built up towards a ‘no’.
For How to Say No to Protect Your Mental Health read here.
#8 No Excuses Necessary.
If some of your boundaries mean you don’t do something or fear you are letting people down. Then remember you don’t need an excuse. Life teaches us to be apologetic for everything; even situations when we don’t need to. If we have a boundary about socializing a certain number of hours a week for our mental health. And someone invites us out, it’s not wrong to say no to it. Your mental health and your boundary are enough reason. After all the boundary is there for a purpose. Likewise, if you find yourself in a toxic relationship, you don’t need to explain why you’re withdrawing. Apologizing in these situations can make us feel bad and doubt the boundaries we’re holding. So, remember you don’t need an excuse. The people who are important to us will understand.
#9 Check In.
Lastly, check in with yourself about how you’re doing. It’s a great opportunity to think about how you’re progressing. As well as rewarding yourself for each new boundary you create and hold. But also to ensure that you know why you’re holding these boundaries. The minute we start to doubt ourselves it’s easy to become more and more flexible until the boundaries disappear. And we begin to forget why we were doing it in the first place. Suddenly they seem inconvenient rather than helpful. So give yourself time to check in with your boundaries and think about whether they’re helping. Do they need tweaking in any way? Can they be added to? And are they still important to you?
These are just a few ideas of how to make and hold boundaries. But I’d love to hear some more. Do you have boundaries? What are they? And how to you hold firm with them? Let us know below!