There are many skills that we are not taught prior to reaching adulthood. They can have lasting impacts on relationships and the communications therein. Boundaries are one such skill that many people seem to miss on their developmental journeys toward adult independence. Boundaries have been described as many things: the ability to say no, determining limits on your physical person, thoughts, and emotions. Boundaries are limits that one sets for themselves to protect not just yourself, but also relationships with others.
Setting effective boundaries can be difficult when you constantly put others’ needs and feelings before your own, you don’t know yourself very well, you fear boundaries will compromise a relationship, or you don’t feel you have the right to instill boundaries. Many people assume boundaries are selfish. This is not true. Boundaries do not say: “You are not allowed to treat me this way.” Boundaries do say: “Should you choose to treat me this way, I will instill a consequence/ boundary.” The difference in these two statements is that in the first statement the use of boundaries is in an effort to control and manipulate. In the second statement however, proper responsibility is placed on the proper parties. For example, a healthy boundary might be: “When you yell at me it makes me feel threatened. I am going to leave the house until we can speak calmly.” This communication is clear, direct, assertive, and calm; it seeks to protect the self and the relationship.
Without boundaries, we can feel taken advantage of or that our desires are unimportant. We become frustrated and angry that our boundaries are violated yet we are unable to express what our boundaries actually are. Constant yielding to a family member or friend becomes our habit. We lose our own sense of self and often find ourselves in unhappy relationships, jobs and life situations. Resentment, anger, worthlessness, and feeling taken advantage of are common experiences to a lack of boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries is an art, and it is a skill that takes practice.
Unhealthy boundaries are:
- Controlling or manipulative
- Invasive or dominating
- Set for us by others
- Rigid and immovable
Healthy boundaries are:
- Clear and firm
- Determined by us
At the end of the day, people can treat you however they want, but it is up to you to teach them what is, and what is not, appropriate. If you desire a healthy relationship with friends or family members, it is important to own your responsibility in various matters, and live out self-respect by enforcing boundaries that not only show you care about your heart, but you care about the relationship, and their heart as well.