The Importance of Setting and Maintaining Boundaries
By: Vanessa Gonzalez
Most of us have heard the term boundaries before, but what exactly are boundaries, and how do we effectively set them in our own life? While setting boundaries can be challenging, it gives you empowerment and prioritizes your needs and wellbeing.
However, the trick is that boundaries are not black and white or universal. You might think of boundaries as an apparent “Do Not Enter” sign or a large fence surrounding a specific area. Unfortunately, in our personal and emotional life, boundaries are not clear-cut and visible.
Boundaries are a way to respect ourselves and take care of ourselves. To set boundaries effectively, you must be able to recognize your own values and needs and assert them to others in a way that is clear, concise, and unapologetic, even when it may feel uncomfortable to do so. As with many things in life, this is a skill that is vital for your overall wellbeing and health.
What are boundaries?
Essentially, there are two types of boundaries.
- Physical boundaries: include your body, physical space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, looking through your personal information/phone.
- Emotional boundaries: involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs.
Unfortunately, there is no playbook or manual for appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are not always black and white, and a lot of the time, we are learning to live in the gray. We need to identify what works for you. Your boundaries depend on your comfort level between yourself and another individual. Your boundaries may also change over time as your relationships change. You may become closer or more distant from someone based on how your relationship might evolve. Both are okay, and you need to decide what feels suitable for you and make sure your needs are met.
If someone’s boundaries are too loose, you may be more likely to:
- Have difficulty saying no to others
- Overshare personal information
- Please others
- Be too involved in other’s problems
If someone’s boundaries are too rigid you might
- Be less likely to develop close relationships
- Seem detached from loved ones
- Or avoid close relationships altogether
Many of us have varying boundaries with various people and situations. For example, your relationship with your coworkers may be significantly different than your relationship with your best friends or family.
When someone has healthy boundaries, they are more likely to:
- Share personal information appropriately
- Understand your own needs and how to communicate them when needed
- Value yourself and your own opinions
- Be able to say no
- Better self-esteem
- Conserving emotional energy
- Greater independence
- Gives you a space to grow and be flexible
According to a study completed by Pluut and Wonders (2020), blurred work-life boundaries can lead to negative lifestyles, lower levels of happiness, and emotional exhaustion. So, setting boundaries is essential not only for ourselves but also to ensure we are aware of other people’s boundaries.
How to create boundaries?
- Understand your own needs and your priorities – What are your values and needs that you refuse to adapt to others? Is it your time for self-care? Is it a safe space for everyone and not tolerating derogatory language? Is it ensuring you’re not overworking yourself or bringing work home with you? Take time to figure out your priorities and work from there.
- Start small – Start small – It can all start from simply practicing saying no. Try saying things like:
- Unfortunately, I can’t do that at this time.
- Thank you for the invitation, but I must decline.
- I can’t do that at the moment.
- That sounds great, however…
- Be assertive – Let others know right away when boundaries are crossed. Try using ‘I’ statements such as:
- I would prefer…
- I need to …
- I felt this when… you…
- Be consistent – Your boundaries will not be respected if you don’t enforce them and reassert them when they are crossed. Being consistent means following through with communicating your boundaries even when it seems challenging or difficult. If you’re going to do something, follow through so others know you’re serious and to respect you.
- Continuously remind yourself of the benefits of boundaries – Setting boundaries can be extremely difficult, especially when you’re not used to it or are a people pleaser. It can be helpful you remind yourself of your own rights as an individual to create boundaries.
We want to ensure that we are setting our own boundaries and respecting others’ boundaries as well – especially when they are different. Use your insight and your gut. If things are unclear, ask! There’s no problem with asking for clarification, just like there is nothing wrong with setting boundaries in the first place. While it may be daunting and seem difficult to set them, it is possible to implement and maintain them without others getting upset. Remember, those who respect your boundaries are people who genuinely respect and care for you.
Pluut, H., & Wonders, J. (2020). Not Able to Lead a Healthy Life When You Need It the Most: Dual Role of Lifestyle Behaviors in the Association of Blurred Work-Life Boundaries With Well-Being. Frontiers in psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.607294
Not sure where to start? A therapist in Palm Beach County can help you understand yourself and your boundaries. We offer counseling in Palm Beach Gardens and counseling in Jupiter including couples counseling Jupiter and anxiety therapy West Palm Beach.