Boundaries are about feeling clear about where we end and another begins… what is ours and what is theirs. In order to effectively have boundaries we have to have a developed sense of self. If this wasn’t taught to us or modeled for us, we may not have learned the experience of “self” which can lead to enmeshed, codependent experiences that can often land us in toxic or abusive experiences. Brene Brown describes the ability to set boundaries as “Having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
When a person makes the decision to come in for counseling often times relationships and life are not going how they wish they were. A natural extension of healing and working on ourselves emotionally and mentally is a stronger sense of self, and in turn, learning how to set boundaries that protect ourselves. As Brene eloquently described, it is the courage to love ourselves and to believe we are worthy of protecting our space, our thoughts, our feelings, our time, and our own bodies… even if that disappoints or upsets someone else. It makes sense that if being loved or keeping ourselves safe as a child meant thinking, feeling or being whatever our caregiver needed or wanted that we learned to disown ourselves. The beauty at the core of boundary work is not only a sense of self and identity but a sense of worthiness. YOU are worthy of setting boundaries… YOUR thoughts, YOUR feelings, YOUR body are all unique, precious and worthy of being protected and listened to.
There are many different types of boundaries. Today I want to spend some time talking about three in particular…
- Physical - If physical boundaries are working effectively, they can be set by deciding how close or distant to be physically. They determine if, when, and how someone is touched. As a child you may have been taught that it’s ok to be hit, or to hit when you’re angry. You may not have been taught how to listen to your own internal alarm system when someone is entering into your personal space or touches you in a way that is uncomfortable or inappropriate. Reclaiming physical boundaries requires mindful awareness to how your body feels when someone is close. You can learn to listen to your body, re-engage your alarm bells and notice… what is your body telling you? And with time you can learn to tell others when to stop, step back or even share with a loved one how you might like to be touched or not touched.
- Process Boundaries - This includes thoughts, opinions, emotions, and feelings… all of these are internal process boundaries. We know these boundaries are working effectively when they enable us to differentiate our own thoughts, opinions, emotions, and behavior from those of other people. Are you someone who struggles making a decision? Or maybe you often feel confused about how you “should” feel about a certain situation and feel easily guilted or responsible for everyone around you? Many have never learned that they have the innate right to their own internal boundaries. Let’s take a closer look at process boundaries:
- Emotional boundaries - these are about respecting and honoring feelings. When emotional boundaries are in place we can set limits around inappropriate topics, emotional dumping or dismissal of emotions. We can also set limits around absorbing someone else’s emotions and feeling responsible for them resisting the urge to save or the need to fix. We can know and feel that we are ok, even when someone else is upset.
- Mental boundaries - when mental boundaries are in place we can turn off the tv, social media, or the radio. We can ask to change the subject and protect ourselves from what we are putting into our mind. We feel the freedom to have our own thoughts, beliefs, values, and opinions.
- The third boundary I want to talk about today is Time - This one can be so hard in today’s world. But your time is valuable. Protecting our time and setting boundaries around work, home, and social life is incredibly important. Setting time boundaries means you understand your priorities and that they are worthy of being protected! When you understand your priorities it is much easier to limit the amount of time you give to other people or activities. Are you the master of your time? Or do you find yourself and your schedule being crowded by others?
Within each type of boundary there may be different qualities. Some boundaries we put in place are permeable - they may be penetrated depending on the person, place or situation. We may also have impermeable boundaries. These are the non-negotiable or deal-breakers! They are more rigid and the boundary holds strong no matter the situation. It’s important to remember that the quality of your boundary may be relationship dependent… is this a safe person? Is this an unsafe person? Our boundaries can be as rigid or fluid as needed given the relationship.
There are many other types of boundaries! What boundaries do see yourself struggling with? What is one step you can take today to set healthier boundaries for yourself? I encourage you to write them down! If you feel comfortable maybe share below in the comments!