An Introduction to Setting Boundaries
I owe a significant part of my peace of mind to one thing I exercise more and more as I get "older". I talk about boundaries.
It's a topic I deem super important. At the same time, I feel a lot of people struggle with it. I hope the following paragraphs will be a good starting point and can help you become comfortable with setting healthy boundaries.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are the invisible but sturdy lines we draw around ourselves to protect us. It's like the doors and walls of a house or the fence around a garden - protection of a private space not everyone can have access to.
Everyone has boundaries. To not allow people to touch you as they wish is a boundary. To leave the conversation when someone yells at you is another one. The question is if the boundaries you set are healthy and serve your best interests.
Also, note boundaries aren't set in stone. They shift as you grow and develop as a person and you can adapt them to your current needs and don't have to apologize for it to anyone.
How to Set Boundaries
To give you an overview and an idea, there are six types of important boundaries as defined by psychotherapist Amanda E. White: physical, emotional, material, mental, sexual, and spiritual.
Amanda also lists some very good questions to understand what each of these specific types of boundaries means, e.g.:
- What topics are not healthy for me to engage in?
- How do I feel about sharing things (to lend things or money)?
- What are my boundaries around sex and intimacy?
You can see more questions to help you discover your necessary boundaries here.
My Personal Boundaries
To give you a personal example, my most important boundaries are emotional and revolve around family:
I had to learn to not feel responsible for the problems of even close family members. I had to learn I'm not accountable for these problems (It's not my fault!). I also learned family and blood-relationship don't justify someone to cross my boundaries (physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual).
I had to learn all this to be able to say no, to decide to not engage, and have no feelings of guilt about it, plus to call my family out if necessary.
Many of the emotional conflicts and wounds I deal with today are due to the fact my boundaries have been systematically crossed throughout my childhood and it didn't come naturally to acknowledge and to process this.
Here's another helpful slide to determine whether your caregivers showed you what healthy boundaries mean and encouraged you to set your own.
This is just my background, however, and the boundaries you need and which you feel are violated might be completely different.
Amanda created separate slides with examples for boundaries in several areas of life:
- boundaries with family;
- boundaries with in-laws;
- boundaries with friends;
- boundaries around dating;
- boundaries with parents.
I want to make clear no email or post will be enough to deal with significant trespassing of your boundaries. This is just a starting point I wish I had before I dove into the topic within myself. I did most part of the work with the help of a therapist and these suggestions won't replace that.
However, I still turn to trustworthy online advice like this one whenever I have to deal with boundaries in a normal, everyday setting.
Remember: Frequently crossed or unset boundaries result in anger you ultimately direct inwards. The anger we express towards ourselves, on the other hand, can be a major cause of depression and other mental health diseases. So set those boundaries and exercise them relentlessly.