The Gifts of Healthy Boundaries
Personal boundaries can be defined as the guidelines we set for how we allow others to treat us and also what they can expect from us in return. Personal boundaries vary from person to person and are created through our core beliefs, our values, opinions and perspectives. All of these in turn are created by our social history, life experiences and the environment we grew up in. Why are healthy boundaries so crucial to our relationships and our mental health? Why do we need healthy boundaries?
Without healthy boundaries we are constantly at the mercy of how others treat us. Meaning we allow others to dictate how we feel, think or act. Without them, we spend a big part of our day thinking about others, doing things others want us to do, worrying about how others feel about us and saying yes to things we would rather be saying no to. Unhealthy boundaries in the long term can lead to anxiety and depression. At its absolute worst, lack of healthy boundaries can lead to abusive relationships.
How do you know that it is time to strengthen your personal boundaries? There are many signs leading to a recognition of lack of boundaries. Here are five:
1. You are worried about letting others down.
Without healthy boundaries, you spend a bulk of your time doing for others, caring for others, engaging in activities that you would rather not be doing and pleasing others to the detriment of yourself.
2. You often feel resentful.
By putting other's needs or desires in front of your own and by giving in to other's demands rather than following your own wishes, you start creating a subtle expectation that others should offer you the same level of sacrifice. When others don’t reciprocate, resentment starts creeping in and permeating your relationships.
3. You often feel tired.
Spending the bulk of your time care-taking others leaves little time for yourself and you end up having to cram the things you would love to do in the time left over or not do them at all. The deeper trouble becomes that never pursuing the things you want to do can leave you unfulfilled and ultimately lead to low level depression.
4. You are not sure of who you really are.
Because our boundaries are learned early in life and often modeled after our caretakers, they may have been in place for a lifetime. If you spend a lifetime taking care of others, it leaves little time intimately getting to know yourself and can lead to a limited sense of self.
5. At your core you are afraid of being abandoned or rejected.
A lack of boundaries is often traced back to childhood. As young children the message often communicated to us is that in order to be lovable we need to be compliant. Because feeling safe and loved is vital to our personal safety and growth we learn early on to do as we are told. Unfortunately many of us carry this unconscious need for approval and safety within us and instead of it leading us to healthy relationships, it leads to difficulty and an intrinsic sense of loneliness.
All too often women are afraid that by setting boundaries, learning to say “no” and honoring themselves above others, that they will be considered selfish and uncaring. I have found time and again that the opposite is true. Healthy boundaries truly are the most loving and generous act that you can engage in. So what are healthy boundaries then and why are they the foundation of empathy and compassion?
1. Healthy boundaries foster mutual respect.
By setting healthy boundaries, you teach people how to treat you. You will attract into your life people that respect you and want good things for you. Even the people already in your life will respond to clear and healthy boundaries by treating you better.
2. Healthy boundaries create joyful experiences.
By saying yes only to the people, activities and requests that truly match your values and desires, you will be able to truly and joyfully be present for them. Releasing obligations frees you to experience more happiness.
3. Healthy boundaries are not about making others wrong.
Because boundaries are based on your values and perspectives they may not align with someone else’s. You don’t need to explain or defend your values, you just need to set them. If someone else is not honoring your boundaries, it gives you to freedom to decide if you want this person in your life. Either way, it frees up everyone to be fully present in the relationship and to honor themselves.
If you are not yet certain if you have healthy boundaries, or if you need to set clearer boundaries, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself.
How much of my day is spent worrying about someone else?
When was the last time I said “no” without an explanation?
How did I feel after saying “no”. Empowered or guilty?
How often do I say “yes” when I would rather say “no”?
Do I believe myself worthy of respect or do I feel I have to earn it by being “nice”?
Do I have any rules or clear guidelines for my friendships.
Maybe you are recognizing that your boundaries need to be fortified a little. How do you set healthy boundaries? What are some first steps?
Tune into how you are feeling when you agree to do things for others. Do you feel joyful and light? Or do you feel resentful and angry? Watching your self talk and and the tension in your body are often clear indicators that you are doing something that is not in line with your value system.
Avoid looking to others for clarity on your boundaries. Tune into yourself and ask yourself in any given moment if the action is aligned with your highest good.
If you have a sense that your boundaries are unhealthy or causing difficult relationships, or you believe they have been impacted by unhealthy childhood conditioning, I'd love to support you to gain clarity on how you became the adult you are today and how to grow into the adult you want to become.