To live a happy and blissful life we need them, but we are constantly struggling to either set them or hold them. Boundaries are your own personal limits, guidelines and ground rules. It’s important to keep in mind that they can vary from person to person, and having open and honest conversations about them is crucial.
It’s easy to get upset with other people for doing something that violates your boundaries, but if they don’t know what those boundaries are, then that leaves you and your loved one in conflict. Or, perhaps, they’ve crossed your boundary and are totally oblivious about how you have been affected—leaving you feeling hurt without the possibility of reconciling.
There are different categories of boundaries that need to be set:
A physical boundary addresses the space around you. Reflect on the amount of physical contact someone engages you with and check in with yourself. Notice if your personal space is being violated, and whether it leaves you uncomfortable and anxious. This is your internal alarm going off. Being clear and firm about what is allowed in your physical space can be the difference between you feeling safe or not.
An emotional boundary refers to the internal, emotional experience. Acknowledging positive and negative feelings are included. It’s easy for people around us to be supportive when you’re doing well. Support can sometimes become more complicated when sharing that you’ve been feeling “down” or “anxious.” Phrases like “you’re fine” or “other people have it worse” can feel invalidating.
It might leave you feeling like your negative feelings are not welcomed. If having a conversation about your emotional boundaries with loved ones is not possible for you yet, then it may be worth re-evaluating your support network to determine who can provide a safe space. Determine if you feel like you can share your emotions with others.
Another area to consider when it comes to emotional boundaries is when other people are overwhelmed by their own internal experience and you start to feel like you’re filling the role of a therapist. If you are comfortable and can protect your emotions while providing a listening ear to someone you care about, then that is your choice. But if you find yourself feeling too overwhelmed, too drained and unable to function in your own life because of your great listening skills, it may be helpful to put a limit to how much time you can listen for.
Mental boundaries refer to your personal thought process. Always seeing eye-to-eye with another person is not possible. Everyone has different experiences, but you have the right to your own thoughts, values, beliefs and opinions. It is important to give and receive respect when it comes to mental boundaries.
If expressing yourself is met with aggression, invalidation or belittling, then it might be worth disengaging. It is not impossible to have conversations with people who do not agree with your every thought, but both participants need to be willing to listen and speak in a non-judgmental and respectful way.
Time and Energy Boundaries
Believe it or not, but setting boundaries for your time and energy are also a necessity. The first step is recognizing your own personal limits. Often, “FOMO” or the fear of missing out can lead you to violate your own boundary. Ask yourself if you have stayed out significantly later than you planned, only to find yourself behind schedule and overly-exhausted the next day. If this is happening frequently, it can disrupt your mental and physical wellness.
Other time and boundary violations can look like being kept in a conversation longer than you planned, employers requesting you to do more work without pay, or someone showing up significantly later than agreed upon without clearly communicating.
Material boundaries refer to personal possessions and the limits on how your items are treated, or when they can or cannot be used. If your things are being touched, or used without your permission, then your material boundaries are in clear violation. A more severe violation would be your possessions being stolen or destroyed. It is your decision who you are comfortable sharing with, or if you don’t want to share at all.
If you have never set and held solid boundaries in your interpersonal relationships, it may be shocking to your loved ones when you try to establish these new rules. You may find yourself repeating yourself at times, or getting frustrated by the responses that you receive to your newly set boundaries. Remember that it is a process for you and your loved ones. If they are not supportive or do not try to work within the framework you are setting, then you have the choice to disengage if you need to. Be clear and concise with your needs and know what you are personally willing to accept or reject for your mental health.