Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential if we want to be both physically and emotionally healthy. Strong boundaries help maintain balance, self-respect and allow us to be interdependent in intimate relationships. A lack of boundaries is like leaving the door to your home wide open, anyone, including un-welcome guests, can walk in without hesitation. On the other hand, having rigid boundaries leads to loneliness and isolation, and is like having a fortress around yourself. This will lead to problems in intimacy in significant relationships, and unhealthy boundaries cause deep emotional pain that can lead to dependency, depression, anxiety and physical illness.
Healthy Boundaries allow us to:
• Be assertive by stating opinions, thoughts, feelings and needs in a respectful manner; ability to say yes or no, and are okay when others say no
• Separate needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others
• Empower us to make healthy choices and take responsibility for oneself
• Have high self-esteem and self respect
• Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship
• Protect physical and emotional space from invasion or intrusion
• Take care of our own needs
• Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power are shared
Unhealthy boundaries are characterized by:
• Inability to say no, due to fear of rejection or abandonment.
• A weak sense of your own identity; you live to serve others.
• Disempowerment; others hold the power and make decisions for you. Consequentially, you have no power or are not taking responsibility for your life
• Inability to protect your physical and emotional space from intrusion.
• Feeling responsible for other’s happiness and satisfaction
Think about your current boundaries and ask:
How much attention do people expect from you at a moment’s notice?
Do you always make yourself available? (e.g. do you answer the phone no matter what’s going on? This drives me crazy to watch people do this!)
Do you say, “yes” to things you don’t want to do in order to appease others?
Do the same scenarios keep playing themselves out in your life? (For example, I used to feel that people were always finding ways to scold me for things I did wrong.)
Dr. Dana Gionta, a psychologist and coach, has ten ways to help you build and preserve better boundaries:
1. Name your limits.
You can’t set good boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand. So identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Those feelings help us identify what our limits are.
2. Tune into your feelings.
Gionta has observed two key feelings in others that are red flags or cues that we’re letting go of our boundaries: discomfort and resentment. She suggested thinking of these feelings on a continuum from one to 10. Six to 10 is in the higher zone, she said.
If you’re at the higher end of this continuum, during an interaction or in a situation, Gionta suggested asking yourself, what is causing that? What is it about this interaction, or the person’s expectation that is bothering me?
Resentment usually “comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated.” It’s often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty (and want to be a good daughter or wife, for instance), or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us, she said.
“When someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a cue to us they may be violating or crossing a boundary,” Gionta said.
3. Be direct.
With some people, maintaining healthy boundaries doesn’t require a direct and clear-cut dialogue. Usually, this is the case if people are similar in their communication styles, views, personalities and general approach to life, Gionta said. They’ll “approach each other similarly.”
With others, such as those who have a different personality or cultural background, you’ll need to be more direct about your boundaries. Consider the following example: “one person feels [that] challenging someone’s opinions is a healthy way of communicating,” but to another person this feels disrespectful and tense.
There are other times you might need to be direct. For instance, in a romantic relationship, time can become a boundary issue, Gionta said. Partners might need to talk about how much time they need to maintain their sense of self and how much time to spend together.
4. Give yourself permission.
Fear, guilt and self-doubt are big potential pitfalls, Gionta said. We might fear the other person’s response if we set and enforce our boundaries. We might feel guilty by speaking up or saying no to a family member. Many believe that they should be able to cope with a situation or say yes because they’re a good daughter or son, even though they “feel drained or taken advantage of.” We might wonder if we even deserve to have boundaries in the first place.
Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. So give yourself the permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them.
5. Practice self-awareness.
Again, boundaries are all about honing in on your feelings and honoring them. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your boundaries, Gionta suggested asking yourself: What’s changed? Consider “What I am doing or [what is] the other person doing?” or “What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?” Then, mull over your options: “What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?”
6. Consider your past and present.
How you were raised along with your role in your family can become additional obstacles in setting and preserving boundaries. If you held the role of caretaker, you learned to focus on others, letting yourself be drained emotionally or physically, Gionta said. Ignoring your own needs might have become the norm for you.
Also, think about the people you surround yourself with, she said. “Are the relationships reciprocal?” Is there a healthy give and take?
Beyond relationships, your environment might be unhealthy, too. For instance, if your workday is eight hours a day, but your co-workers stay at least 10 to 11, “there’s an implicit expectation to go above and beyond” at work, Gionta said. It can be challenging being the only one or one of a few trying to maintain healthy boundaries, she said. Again, this is where tuning into your feelings and needs and honoring them becomes critical.
7. Make self-care a priority.
Gionta helps her clients make self-care a priority, which also involves giving yourself permission to put yourself first. When we do this, “our need and motivation to set boundaries become stronger,” she said. Self-care also means recognizing the importance of your feelings and honoring them. These feelings serve as “important cues about our wellbeing and about what makes us happy and unhappy.”
Putting yourself first also gives you the “energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others and be there” for them.” And “When we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend.”
8. Seek support.
If you’re having a hard time with boundaries, “seek some support, whether [that’s a] support group, church, counseling, coaching or good friends.” With friends or family, you can even make “it a priority with each other to practice setting boundaries together [and] hold each other accountable.”
Consider seeking support through resources, too. Gionta likes the following books: The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time and Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life.
Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of Brene Brown, so check out her books as well- they helped me!
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough"
Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
9. Be assertive.
Of course, we know that it’s not enough to create boundaries; we actually have to follow through. Even though we know intellectually that people aren’t mind readers, we still expect others to know what hurts us, Gionta said. Since they don’t, it’s important to assertively communicate with the other person when they’ve crossed a boundary.
In a respectful way, let the other person know what in particular is bothersome to you and that you can work together to address it, Gionta said.
10. Start small.
Like any new skill, assertively communicating your boundaries takes practice. Gionta suggested starting with a small boundary that isn’t threatening to you, and then incrementally increasing to more challenging boundaries. “Build upon your success, and [at first] try not to take on something that feels overwhelming.”
“Setting boundaries takes courage, practice and support,” Gionta said. And remember that it’s a skill you can master.
As time goes on, your boundaries may require updating. Perhaps the time you can give to others is much more limited after starting a new relationship or having a baby. Redefining your boundaries may mean swapping the belief “I want to please others” to “I value my time and want to keep some for myself.”
Bear in mind that those close to you may not be fully supportive in your attempts to change. They have been used to the old ways of doing things. As with any life change, extending boundaries has a price, and this may be losing acquaintances along the way. Of course, those relationships that are worth having will survive, and grow stronger.
Tactics to Deal with Objections
Be consistent with your new boundaries
Keep them simple
Stay calm at all times
Be responsible for your own emotional reactions rather than blaming other people
If it appears you need to compromise, be flexible, but take it slowly and don’t agree to anything that doesn’t feel right
Once you have established strong, clear boundaries, people will give you more respect. This means you can be yourself to a greater extent, asking for what you really want and need without fear of judgment. Emotional manipulators will back off and in their place sustainable, loving relationships will thrive. I can’t ever stress this enough, but when you change your inside world, the outside world changes to match up to your vibrations and feelings.
If boundaries are so helpful and necessary, then why are they so hard to set and keep? Fear. We’re scared that the person will be hurt or mad. Scared they won’t like us. Scared that the relationship will end.
But what is scarier is being in unhealthy relationships or tolerating behavior that feels hurtful. For relationships to grow, there are sometimes growing pains. The other person may very well get hurt or angry. You are not responsible for their reaction. You are responsible for communicating honestly and with love.
Remember: being loving is being real, authentic and courageous. Consider what boundaries it may be time to set to grow yourself and your relationships. There are plethora of examples I can give you as to how setting boundaries have completely changed by life for the better, but wait until my auto-biography haha. I can tell you that it began with setting boundaries with men. I learned that I don’t owe a man anything, I don’t have to tolerate uncomfortable or unwelcome conversation or behavior, and I can say NO whenever I want. I learned to be honest with friends, and to just say if I don’t feel up to making plans. I eventually learned how to set boundaries with my parents, mostly my father, so that I would no longer succumb to his manipulation and guilt tactics. Remember, you don’t owe anyone anything! I have created boundaries with bosses, co-workers, romantic partners, my child, and strangers. And most importantly, I realized I am not, and never need to be, a victim. When you start to see the results, it just gets easier and easier, and it makes life feel sooooooo much better and lighter!
The truth is, I wasn’t able to set theses boundaries until I decided that I deserve better, and I was going to start letting the world know. So I’m telling you, YOU are SO worth it! I respect you, now get out there and respect yourself. Discover your true, authentic self, then get out there and show it to the world!