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Boundaries! Why are they important?

The definition of our limits refers to everything that marks a boundary between what we accept or not, between what we want or not, between what we can do or not. It is a real or imaginary line that marks the edge or limit of something, whether it is a subject, a principle or a relationship.

Personal boundaries are guidelines that establish rules or barriers that a person creates for their own well-being and safety. These boundaries help identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for others to behave towards them. They also make it possible to anticipate how these people will react if someone crosses these limits. They are generally constructed from a mixture of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning. Personal boundaries help define an individual by describing their likes and dislikes. They set the distances that we allow others in their approach, both physical and verbal. Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, indeed, healthy living. Setting and maintaining boundaries is a skill.

Why are boundaries important?

Healthy boundaries are key and necessary elements of self-care and self-respect. Without boundaries, we feel exhausted, exploited, drained, depressed, taken for granted, or invaded. Whether at work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries can lead to resentment, hurt, anger and burnout.

Boundaries help us take care of ourselves by giving us permission to say NO to things, to others. Above all, it gives us the choice not to take responsibility for everything, and not to let others take us for granted. Boundaries draw a clear line between what is acceptable to us and what is not. Although some behaviors clearly cross the line for almost everyone, we all have different comfort levels, and therefore different limits. Whether it is our intimate life, in our private life or professional life, whether we are talking about delays and politeness, or things more important like physical behaviors or verbal approach, everyone has limits that must not be exceeded. When someone behaves in a way that does not suit us - that goes beyond our limits, it is important and essential for our personal well-being to let them know, and make these limits much clearer.

Boundaries are important both for the individuals in a relationship and for the health of the relationship itself. Without clear boundaries, we can become resentful, taken advantage of, and eventually shut down and withdraw. This can affect our self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall level of personal and interpersonal comfort. Clear boundaries keep us connected. Communicating our boundaries shows our respect for the relationship, manifesting that we are willing to work to ensure the relationship remains strong and safe.

Stop... boundaries!

Unhealthy boundaries are characterized by:

  • Sharing too much too soon.

  • At the other end of the spectrum, shutting down and not expressing your needs and desires.

  • Feeling responsible for the happiness of others.

  • Having a weak sense of one's own identity.

  • Base your self-esteem on how others treat you.

  • Engaging in codependent behavior.

  • Allowing others to make decisions for you, which will result in you feeling helpless and not taking responsibility for your own life.

HEALTHY boundaries allow an individual to:
  • Have high self-esteem and self-respect.

  • Share their personal information gradually, in a relationship of mutual sharing and trust.

  • Protect physical and emotional space from intrusions.

  • Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power are shared.

  • Be assertive by saying YES or NO with confidence and honesty, and by agreeing when others tell you NO.

  • Separate their needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others.

  • Recognize that their limitations and needs are different from those of others.

  • Empower them to make healthy choices and take responsibility.

Be careful, however, if you are dealing with someone who is physically dangerous or threatening to you, it may not be wise to try to set explicit limits. If you are in this situation, you should seek to work with a counselor, therapist, or advocate to create a safety plan, and setting boundaries may be part of that.

Discovery Call

Setting boundaries isn’t always easy or comfortable. Some people may have unexpected reactions if you say NO to things or try to communicate your needs more clearly. In other cases, people may try to test your limits, to see how serious is your determination. For example, if they are used to you reacting a certain way (taking responsibility for everything), they may push you away when you try to make changes. This doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. This may simply mean that you need to be clear and consistent until people adjust to your new way of interacting.

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