What are Boundaries?Jun 12, 2023
"Boundaries" have caused a bit of a buzz in the wellness space over the last few years. Many of us realising that we had never even thought about having boundaries in relationships before. It’s incredibly important to have healthy boundaries in relationships as the quality of your relationships depend on them! Most of us have unhealthy boundaries in our relationships. We are people pleasers, feeling guilty or resentful a lot of the time. Most of us haven’t even considered where this comes from, why we behave the way we do, and just how deeply impactful on our psychology and overall mental health boundaries can be. Starting to set healthy boundaries was such a huge step in my journey to having higher self-worth, healthier & easier relationships, gaining respect from those around me, letting go of resentment and actually living a life doing the things I wanted to do, rather than what everyone else wanted me to do.
There are 3 types of boundaries:
Healthy boundaries - connected and protected.
This means you are able to communicate to others your needs and wants which is vital to healthy relationships. You are able to negotiate your boundaries when necessary & you are able to stick to your non-negotiables. You know what you value and what your needs are within relationships. You have a good understanding of who you are. You don’t take on other people’s emotions & become responsible for them. You can be empathetic but you are not trying to fix or save anyone else. Overall, your relationships feel lighter, easier & less complicated. You are able to take on feedback without taking it too personally. You feel secure in your relationships and you are able to build a foundation of trust. You are able to make decisions on your own without needing to ask everyone else to make the decision for you. You are steadfast in your own boundaries towards yourself too - you put time aside for yourself, you honour your time alone, you don’t feel like you have to change your plans in order to suit others. You are able to sit in the discomfort of someone else’s disappointment even though it can feel tough as first! You don’t bombard others with your advice and often ask “would you like my thoughts / feedback” before dishing out advice. You trust others to make their own mistakes / decisions.
Porous - overly connected and not protected.
You let everyone and everything into your own sphere. You feel guilty if you say no and you never want to disappoint others. You feel responsible for everyone around you. You take on too much. You say yes to everything and then feel resentful for it. You fear other people disliking you. You don’t necessarily know your values or your needs. You try to save everyone and are an over-giver. You attract needy people into your life. You are afraid of speaking up, you doubt yourself and your decisions. Everyone else comes first, you often come last. You feel “too busy” all the time. You never seem to have any time or space for yourself. You are constantly changing your plans to suit everyone else. You struggle to simply listen to someone else’s problem - you always feel like you have to give input & feel a need to help. You often have a pressure cooker response - saying yes to everything, getting to saturation point, and then blowing up wanting to retreat and say no to everyone and everything. You feel resentful, overwhelmed, potentially burnt-out, lost, confused, exhausted, frustrated at yourself, and you tend to have a victim hood mentality - “why do these things always happen to me?”
Wall - overly protected and not connected.
You hold a wall up to the world. You are afraid of being vulnerable. You distrust the world around you. You are saying no to things not from a place of high worth, but from a place of fear. You don’t let people in.
Our survival mechanism and ego like to give us excuses as to why we don’t change this behaviour. I think of our brains as having two conversations. One conversation that comes from “Beauty” and this is a place of love, trust, wisdom, connection, our higher-Self. One conversation comes from the “Beast” and this is our fear, our ego, struggle and trauma. This is all likely to be subconscious unless you have done some deeper work on yourself. When we can recognise that the Beast is trying to keep us safe and small - as a result of wanting to survive in the world (our ego and survival mechanism hates change and uncertainty) then we can start to turn up the volume of the voice of Beauty.
The voice of Beauty is the voice that tells you that meditation would be a great practice to start, it’s the voice that offers you love when you have made a mistake, it’s the voice that reminds you that you are of value no matter what. This voice is also the voice that is urging you to start to have healthier boundaries with those you love. However, the voice of the Beast comes along and says, “there’s no point in setting a boundary, my Dad won’t listen” “there’s no point telling my boss at work to stop yelling at me, he’s never going to change” “there’s no point in trying to start to meditate, my mind is just too busy.” Creating change in our psychology takes a lot of bravery and courage because there is a part of our brain, the most primal part of our brain that wants us to stay safe and not change! By simply becoming aware of this you are starting to bring the subconscious mind into the conscious mind. That’s the first key step in starting to set boundaries. The next is jumping off a clifff!
Jumping off a cliff
If you are terrible at setting boundaries, you are likely going to have to take a big leap of faith the first time you start to set them. It feels incredibly scary to your nervous system to create this behaviour change because you are so terrified of the other person’s reaction. But the truth is, the power of the boundary is not in how someone else reacts. It’s in you setting the boundary in the first place no matter the outcome. Because boundaries and self-worth are highly linked. Those with low self-worth are very likely to have unhealthy boundaries. Those with higher self-worth are likely to have healthy boundaries. A good rule of thumb is to start by setting boundaries in low risk situations. For example, telling your waiter that your food isn’t what you asked for. The hardest people to set boundaries with are our families because it’s a dynamic where we often feel incredibly triggered! Start small and work your way up to the harder ones. By doing this you start to create a culture of faith inside you. You set a boundary and this gives you a little deposit of worth - that you are worthy of being considered, valued, heard etc. With that little deposit of self-worth, you start to find it a little easier to set the next boundary… and so on.
How to set boundaries
At first a boundary can be a suggestion (depending on the situation.) “I would prefer it if you came to meet me halfway between our houses.” Then if the boundary isn’t honoured, your boundary can have a consequence. “I’m afraid if you are not willing to meet me halfway, I won’t be able to meet up this time.”
“I would appreciate it you didn’t raise your voice.”
“If you continue to raise your voice I will have to leave the conversation.”
The key is here - do not call their bluff! If you set a consequence, you must stick to that consequence, and this is going to feel hard! Remember you are someone who doesn’t want to disappoint others, of course this is going to feel uncomfortable! Having the courage to disappoint others is a huge key to higher self-worth, being respected, feeling more secure, feeling more empowered and less like a doormat!
Healthy boundaries include
Being able to say no when you want to say no.
Asking for time - “I need to take some time to think, if you need an answer now, the answer will have to be no.”
Not accepting criticism - “If you continue to criticise the way I live my life, I won’t continue this conversation.”
Prioritising yourself when you are busy - “I don’t have time to help you right now. I would like to concentrate on my own projects.”
Money boundaries - “I won’t be lending you money anymore. I care about you but you need to start taking responsibility for yourself.”
I could write so much about boundaries as it's such a huge topic! It takes time to learn this skill but everyone can learn to set healthy boundaries. It's likely to not go perfectly the first few times but stick with it. Boundaries have been invaluable to all of my relationships.
If you want to learn more about setting healthy boundaries then I would love you to check out a couple of options below!