Understanding and Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries

Understanding and Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are limits that define a space and separate one thing from another. While physical boundaries are obvious and easy to recognize, personal (or psychological) boundaries are not. Personal boundaries are meant to do the same thing as physical boundaries. That is, personal boundaries help keep the private parts of your life away from public exposure. These boundaries also help maintain relationships with the people who are closest to you: parents, spouse or intimate partner, children, and friends.  Personal boundaries make these relationships different from all others.

Different relationships call for different boundaries

How tightly you secure a personal boundary depends on the type of relationship you have with an individual. You would not reveal private information about yourself to a complete stranger. With co-workers or acquaintances, you may share superficial information about yourself, but typically nothing of substance. In contrast, close friends and family may know very intimate details about your life. These different relationships call for different types of boundaries. If your boundaries are too rigid or too relaxed, then you can create problems in your relationships. If your boundaries are too relaxed, it can leave you open to being taken advantage of by other people. For example, someone asks for something and you are afraid to say “no,” because you haven’t set a firm boundary with that person. If your boundaries are too rigid, you may feel lonely or isolated. You might shut others out and not allow them to get to know the real you.

How to set healthy boundaries

  • Realize you have the right to set appropriate boundaries.
  • Recognize that your needs and feelings are important.
  • Listen to yourself and be aware of your feelings. Otherwise, how can you tell if something is wrong?
  • Before you set limits with other people in your life, analyze yourself and decide your limits.
  • Utilize your right to say “no,” and communicate that you expect to be treated with courtesy and respect.
  • Communicate your boundaries clearly to the people in your life.

How to make your boundaries clear

In order to set boundaries with others, you must clearly state your limits without using criticism or judgment. This is called assertive communication.  Assertive communication encourages you to focus on what you need and to use language that communicates clearly to others.

Use “I” statements to prevent the other person from feeling judged or attacked. For example, “I would like to go to the movies with you, but I already have plans that night,” or, “I am worried about our finances and would like to talk about it.”

Encourage your friends, family, and others to communicate their personal boundaries as well. This will create more open and understanding relationships. It will also make it easier for you to disclose your boundaries if everyone else has done the same.

Remember that boundaries will change as you and your relationships do. Continually consider how you feel and let the people in your life know if something changes. After all, no one else is in your head and those around you can only know what you allow them to know.

If you would like to further discuss personal boundaries and healthy relationships with a therapist, reach out to us at Family & Child Development.