Boundaries include physical boundaries, as well as, emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, even looking through your personal files or your phone. Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs. Strong boundaries protect your self-esteem and your identity as an individual with the right to make your own choices.
Boundaries are your own invisible force field and you are in charge of protecting it. As important as this may sound, most of us have a difficult time setting healthy boundaries consistently. At times it is difficult to identify when our boundaries are being crossed. We may even fear the consequences to our relationships if we set them. Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings, and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are OK just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others, taking responsibility for the outcomes of other’s choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on other’s approval.
Types of boundaries
There are several areas where boundaries apply:
- Material boundaries determine whether you give or loan things, such as your money, car, clothes, books, food, or toothbrush.
- Physical boundaries pertain to your personal space, privacy, and body. Do you give a handshake or a hug – to whom and when? How do you feel about loud music, nudity, and locked doors?
- Mental boundaries apply to your thoughts, values, and opinions. Are you easily suggestible? Do you know what you believe, and can you hold onto your opinions? Can you open-mindedly to listen to someone else’s, without becoming rigid? If you become highly emotional, argumentative, or defensive, you may have weak emotional boundaries.
- Emotional boundaries distinguish separating your emotions and responsibility for them from someone else’s. It’s like an imaginary line or force field that separates you and others. Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming, or accepting blame. They protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. High reactivity suggests weak emotional boundaries. Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries – knowing your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others.
- Sexual boundaries protect your comfort level with sexual touch and activity – what, where, when, and with whom.
- Spiritual boundaries relate to your beliefs and experiences in connection with God and a higher power.
Make a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Write them down. Visualize yourself setting them and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them. Remember, this is a process. Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and experience success before taking on more challenging boundaries.
Why it’s hard
It’s hard for codependents to set boundaries because:
1) They put others’ needs and feelings first;
2) They don’t know themselves;
3) They don’t feel they have rights;
4) They believe setting boundaries jeopardizes the relationship,
5) They never learned to have healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are learned. You didn’t learn you had rights or boundaries if yours weren’t valued growing up. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries, including teasing. For example, my brother ignored my pleas for him to stop tickling me until I could barely breathe. This made me feel powerless and that I didn’t have a right to say “Stop” when I was uncomfortable. In recovery, I gained the capacity to tell a massage therapist to Stop and use less pressure. In some cases, boundary violations affect a child’s ability to mature into an independent, responsible adult.
Here are some of the examples of setting boundaries to start with:
- Say no – to tasks you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do.
- Say yes – to help.
- Say thank you with no apology, regret, or shame.
- Ask for help.
- Delegate tasks.
- Protect your time – don’t overcommit.
- Ask for space – we all need our own time.
- Speak up if you feel uncomfortable with how someone is treating you or your needs are being infringed upon.
- Honor what is important to you by choosing to put yourself first.
- Drop the guilt and responsibility for others.
- Share personal information gradually and in a mutual way (give and take).
Good boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect, and strength. We teach people how to treat us. Set high standards for those you surround yourself with. Expect to be treated in the same loving way you treat them. You will soon find yourself surrounded by those who respect you, care about your needs and your feelings and treat you with kindness.
Love and light