Healthy Boundaries = A Healthier, Happier You
Although I sincerely believe that we are all one on a spiritual level, I am completely aware of the need to set healthy personal boundaries in our every day lives. I’m equally aware of how many people needlessly struggle due to unhealthy boundaries or living without boundaries altogether.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are limits which define who you are as a distinct individual separate from all others. They define your responsibilities, beliefs, ideas and limits. Boundaries in relationships define where you end and another person begins, what is yours and what is not yours.
Why set boundaries?
All people have the right and responsibility to take care of themselves. This is why we set boundaries. Healthy boundaries include some degree of flexibility; but ultimately they ensure self preservation and protection. They act as a type of invisible protective barrier that guards your feelings, thinking and body.
What happens without boundaries?
Without boundaries, we run the risk of losing ourselves, becoming enmeshed with others, allowing ourselves to be victimized, or crossing boundaries that are put in place by others. Furthermore, unhealthy boundaries make it difficult to take responsibility for your actions, to stand up for yourself, and to draw the line between what is and what is not okay with you.
Types of Boundaries
People seem least aware when crossing boundaries that are non-physical, so what I’ll talk about here are mental and emotional boundaries.
If you’re curious about the concept of physical boundaries, just think about how close a stranger can get to you before you feel uncomfortable? Someone at work or school? How is this different when it comes to a close friend, your spouse or your children? An angry person as opposed to someone who’s smiling?
You may not be completely conscious of how you’ve set boundaries to protect yourself physically, but you can feel them.
Now for the more complex boundaries…
These types of boundaries define your own emotions as separate from those of others, particularly, when someone else’s emotions are negative or manipulative.
Healthy emotional boundaries- When our emotional boundaries are properly intact, we accept full responsibility for our emotions and subsequent behaviors. We don’t take everything personally nor do we blame others for the way we feel.
Healthy emotional boundaries also allow us to respect the feelings of others, realizing that everyone’s reality is his own and people have the right to feel whatever they feel. We can see how our behavior affects another person without taking responsibility for their feelings; and we aren’t too inflexible to consider reasonable compromises.
Damaged Emotional Boundaries- Even healthy boundaries have some degree of flexibility, but damaged emotional boundaries are extremely fractured. This may include constantly changing (or completely turning off) personal emotional boundaries to accommodate a certain person or circumstance.
Example: Jane generally has healthy emotional boundaries, but she feels unable to maintain them with superiors at work. If her boss is angry, frustrated or unsatisfied; she blames herself no matter how great she’s done her job.
A person with damaged emotional boundaries may also be the offender—the one crossing boundaries with certain people or in certain situations.
Example: Thomas has healthy emotional boundaries at work, but he regularly expects his wife and kids to avoid “making” him angry, upset or frustrated. If he’s feeling on edge, the family is to blame.
Rigid Emotional Boundaries- The tell-tale signs of rigid emotional boundaries are: not sharing enough of yourself with others, always refusing to compromise, and not letting people get emotionally close to you. A person with rigid emotional boundaries isn’t willing to talk about his feelings and expresses a strong disinterest in the feelings of others. Basically, he doesn’t care how you feel.
Non-existent emotional boundaries– People with nonexistent or enmeshed boundaries do one of two things. Either they feel responsible for keeping everyone happy, therefore blaming themselves for the negative emotions of others; or they unfairly blame others for everything that goes wrong, therefore showing no personal accountability.
Examples: Bridget obsessively apologizes to everyone for everything with the genuine feeling that she’s at fault. If someone feels angry or sad, she believes that she is the cause. To the contrary, Paul is a guy with an incessantly negative attitude. Rather than accepting responsibility, he blames his misery on the government, his family, his job and even the world itself. Both of these are reflections of unhealthy boundaries.
Our mental boundaries allow us to separate our thoughts, beliefs and opinions from those of others. They help us to maintain independence of thought, keep an open mind, think for ourselves and respect others’ right to think differently.
Healthy mental boundaries- When your mental boundaries are healthy, you can listen to and assess the thoughts of others without making them your own. You can also share your thoughts with others without demanding that they think the same way.
Example: Sherry is a Buddhist, yet she can listen respectfully to the thoughts and beliefs of her Catholic friend. She doesn’t change what she believes and she can speak about her beliefs without putting down or attempting to alter her friend’s beliefs.
One important point about having healthy mental boundaries is that you sometimes do change your way of thinking; however, you’re equally capable of evaluating all types of information (books, lectures, etc.) and deciding to disregard all or part of the message.
Damaged mental boundaries- A person with damaged mental boundaries may not generally have unhealthy boundaries, but crossing boundaries becomes an issue with certain people or under certain circumstances.
Example: Mark generally thinks for himself but he believes everything that he is told by his manipulative mother. Any evidence to the contrary is strictly disregarded.
Alternatively, a person with damaged mental boundaries may be the offender—the one who pushes his thoughts, opinions and beliefs onto others.
Rigid mental boundaries- These types of boundaries leave little to no room for consideration of other people’s ways of thinking. Someone with rigid mental boundaries doesn’t care about the thoughts of others. That person is very closed-minded and not likely to consider or listen to other ideas. These unhealthy boundaries also manifest in people who refuse to share their thoughts or discuss their beliefs with others. This is common in people who are afraid of ever admitting that their beliefs may have flaws.
Non-existent mental boundaries: A person who has very few if any mental boundaries is said to have mentally enmeshed boundaries. She doesn’t have a mind of her own, there’s nothing that she really believes in and her every thought is subject to change on a whim.
Example: Kim was taught that she isn’t smart enough to think for herself, so she believes whatever anyone tells her. Without boundaries, she’s not sure what she really believes and she doesn’t have any strong convictions of her own. Her thoughts change based on who she’s listening to at any moment.
If you’ve looked over this list and decided that you have perfectly healthy boundaries that are always intact, I suggest you read about the Denial Defense Mechanism.
From time to time, we’re all guilty of crossing boundaries or allowing others to cross our boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s most often done with the people we love the most: parents and children, lovers and spouses, friends. But life isn’t about getting everything right 100% of the time. It’s about growth, experience and improvement—self improvement. And self improvement starts with awareness.
By simply being aware of unhealthy and healthy boundaries in relationships, you’ll begin making amazing changes in your life as a whole.
Just remember…what people want more than anything is the freedom to be themselves—body, mind and soul. Set boundaries for yourself and respect the boundaries of every other human being.
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