Healthy personal boundaries are absolutely essential to our wellbeing and are crucial across all areas of our lives.
Our boundaries allow us to function within society without compromising our health, happiness or our moral compass. They are the framework which protects us from being exploited or taken for granted. They enable us to manage our time and energy and give us control over how we choose to live our lives.
When we think about setting boundaries, our thoughts may immediately go to the workplace, but actually, personal boundaries should also extend to our private and family lives, as well as the wider world and society in general. Anywhere we have relationships or interactions with people, we should have boundaries in place. By doing this, we allow time and space for ourselves and we make it clear to people how we expect to be treated.
Everyone is entitled to set boundaries and to have the expectation that those boundaries will be respected by others. However, despite this fact, many of us struggle to do this, for a number of different reasons - we may feel guilty for saying no; we may fear the disapproval of family or colleagues; we may mistake self-preservation as being selfish; perhaps we measure our self-worth by pleasing other people; or we may worry about losing something – our job, a friend or a loved one.
Our boundaries make it clear to people how we expect to be treated.
The ability to set boundaries stems from our self-worth and self-respect. Appreciating our value as a human being and accepting that we have a right to look after our own needs, will allow us to draw boundaries that are positive and empowering. In doing so, we will create a better balance within our lives, reduce stress and the risk of burnout and people will actually respect us more as a consequence.
We've identified five steps to create healthy boundaries that will help us thrive!
1. Understand - what are personal boundaries and why do they matter?
Personal boundaries are the limits we set between ourselves and others, to maintain healthy relationships and preserve our wellbeing. When we set boundaries we demonstrate to others how we expect to be treated and the kind of behaviour or treatment we will (and won’t) accept. By doing this, we can avoid exploitation and maintain our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. People will respect us more as a consequence and this in turn will boost our sense of self-worth, making it easier to continue maintaining those boundaries!
2. Identify - pinpoint your personal limits and devise your boundaries
Once we are clear about the what and the why, the next step is to identify our personal limits. Boundaries will vary according to context and we need to consider what we feel comfortable with at work, with friends and family and within the wider world. Keeping a journal for a couple of weeks is a great way to keep track of how daily life, interactions and relationships affect our emotions and sense of wellbeing – patterns will emerge and it will become obvious what is and isn’t working, highlighting areas where clearer boundaries are required. By paying attention to our feelings in different situations, we learn about what makes us feel relaxed or comfortable and conversely, what makes us feel stressed or uncomfortable. Remember, personal boundaries reveal a great deal about ourselves to others - they reflect our values and our self-respect. Consider whether your current boundaries are projecting the right message – if not, it could be time to up the ante!
Personal boundaries reveal a great deal about ourselves to others - consider whether yours are projecting the right message.
3. Communicate – express your boundaries to others
Having identified our boundaries, the next step is to begin implementing them in our lives. This can be a challenging task, particularly for those of us with people-pleasing tendencies – but rest assured, it isn’t as daunting as it may initially seem! We must be honest about our needs and expectations and be clear, so that no one is left in any doubt about our position. A little diplomacy is fine, but it’s important to be assertive - remember we are all entitled to set boundaries and should not be afraid to put our foot down. It’s also important to practice what we preach. A large part of communication is non-verbal and very often, actions speak louder than words.
4. Consistency – stand your ground and stay true to your boundaries
Once our boundaries have been established, we then need to ensure we maintain them. It’s natural to encounter a few teething problems in the beginning and it’s very likely we will face some resistance. Not everyone is going to be a fan of the changes we are making and some people will test our resolve! Don’t be discouraged. As with most things, practice makes perfect and consistency is key – our words and our actions must be consistent, to avoid contradicting ourselves. Any confusion will blur those boundaries and some people will exploit any opportunity - ever heard the phrase “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”?! It’s also a good idea to continue with the journal at this stage, to keep track of progress and ensure we are heading in the right direction. By using our emotions as a guide, we can identify where our boundaries are working and where there is still room for further improvement.
5. Recognise when enough is enough - don’t be afraid to draw the line
Most people will respond quickly and positively to our newly implemented boundaries – even viewing us with newfound respect and admiration. However, be prepared for the inevitable few who will continue to disregard them, despite our commendable efforts to be assertive and consistent. In this situation, don’t be afraid to draw the line when necessary. If we have been clear and consistent about our boundaries and someone continues to disregard them, then it is time to walk away. Don’t be dragged into a debate – we are all entitled to set personal boundaries and we don’t owe anyone an explanation. Thankfully these people are in the minority, but giving ourselves permission to say “enough is enough” will ensure we are prepared for any eventuality and can set our boundaries with confidence.
We are all entitled to set personal boundaries and we don't owe anyone an explanation.
Personal boundaries help us to live healthy lives full of positive, enriching relationships and not only benefit ourselves but also the other people in our lives. Put yourself back in the driving seat - you’ll feel empowered, happier and healthier as a consequence.
By Gemma Coldwell - Contributing editor
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