An Exploration of Boundaries
Think of yourself singing in the shower. Now think of yourself singing on the subway, on stage, at the doctor's office, in the weekly work team meeting, at your best friends wedding. Singing in each of these settings evokes a different feeling. Which place feels the safest? Most people would say the shower feels the most comfortable.
Now I want you to think of what a shower might symbolize. A secure space for you alone, with a door or a curtain, water drowning out the sounds outside. You and some soap. Think of the shower in the context of your most exposed values, fears, wants, needs, goals, triggers. This is an intimate space you want to have complete control of, and only invite in a select few, if anyone.
So what protects your vulnerable self from the judgement and influences of the world? Boundaries. Boundaries create a safe space for you to define where your inner world is protected and revealed by you.
When I am feeling "off" at a family gathering, overwhelmed by the news, pressured by my friend, steamrolled by my boss, overstimulated by my kid, one likely culprit is the my boundaries have become too relaxed, or there has been a boundary violation. Either way, I have found myself in the shower full of people I didn't invite.
Maybe you grew up in a home where personal space and privacy weren’t respected. Locked doors were discouraged, even for bathrooms. Everyone would walk in on everyone doing their business. It wasn’t till I was older that I started locking the door only to have my mother continuously knock, asking, “What’s going on in there?”
Maybe talking about needs or feelings was always met with criticisms or complaints. Feelings were dismissed. Maybe you were expected to cater to a parent or older sibling.
The lack of personal boundaries may indicate an identity that is enmeshed with others, usually your family of origin. Carried into adulthood and present relationships yields you having trouble voicing your needs and your "no's". Your lack of boundaries may allow others to take advantage of you.
1. Guidelines, rules, limits, or expectations created to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to treat you.
2. Involve your response including consequences you’ll carry out if and when those limits are overstepped or violated.
Setting boundaries don’t mean controlling the other person. Boundaries are about your own behavior. Setting boundaries let people know where you stand and where you draw the line. It lets you make a statement about what you need, how you feel, and make a point about what is not okay.
Boundaries can be physical or emotional. Physical boundaries are what you’ll allow people to do in your physical presence and inside your home. Emotional boundaries are how people are allowed to treat you. It’s important to establish both.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is necessary for your emotional and mental health. Learning how to set boundaries for yourself is a way to manage your life, your time, and your health and can positively affect all aspects of your life.
Healthy boundaries in different areas of your life can help you distribute time and attention appropriately and help you manage stress. This allows you to find more fulfillment and limit your exposure to adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone).
Healthy boundaries can also help you define your individuality. You can develop a stronger identity and more autonomy. You will be able to make decisions based on your best interests.
Being able to set boundaries in relationships helps diminish disappointment, anger, frustration, confusion, or resentment. Boundaries combat the error of assumption. Here is how you can get started on identifying and setting boundaries in your life. 1. Understand them To first be able to introduce and set boundaries, it’s important to understand why they’re important and how they would benefit you. Think about all the improvements setting healthy boundaries will bring to your life. Expect to feel guilty or selfish if you’re not used to boundaries in your family of origin. 2. Decide what you want When you feel uncomfortable about something, like someone has jumped into the shower with you, try to explore what caused you to feel that way. This may be challenging if you’re used to tolerating discomfort or abusive behavior. Once you figure out what makes you feel negatively, you will be able to come up with limits to keep that in check. Once you decide on what you want, come up with reasonable consequences when those boundaries get broken.
3. Examine existing boundaries Take a moment to examine boundaries you might already have in place. Are they too rigid or too loose? Are you distancing or shutting yourself out from other people? Is there anything you’re currently not okay with that others might not be aware of? When someone breaks your boundaries, do you keep letting it slide? It takes time for us to see whether a boundary we established is too much, too little, or just enough. So it’s normal for our boundaries to change.
4. Keep it simple You can simply say “no” if and when someone asks you for something or does something to you that you’re not comfortable with. If you’re a people-pleaser, saying “no” can be a hard thing to do. Different people have different comfort levels, so start practicing with someone you’re more comfortable voicing your needs to. 5. Take it slow Establish a few simple boundaries and see how it goes. Then make the necessary adjustments or add boundaries as needed.
6. Set reasonable consequences Decide on reasonable consequences for if and when your boundaries get broken. When voicing boundaries or addressing violations, it’s important to briefly state why they’re important and what violating or overstepping those boundaries mean. For example, if you have a friend that constantly complains about your partner, you might want to establish a boundary by saying “I don’t like hearing my partner being talked about negatively. As my friend, I hope you can respect that.” If they violate that boundary again, then you could repeat what you said and add, “If you continue this, I might have to spend less time with you”.
Consequences are NOT the same as punishments or threats. Consequences should NOT be used to control someone else’s behavior. Instead, you can see consequences as something triggered by a cause.
7. Stick to it Although you can tweak your boundaries, it’s also important to try to remain consistent if you want others to respect your limits. Try not to let your boundaries slide. When you do, it could become a reason for others to continue to try to overstep your boundaries. It may also cause new expectations and demands for people around you. If someone breaks a boundary, let them have the consequences. The only way to make your boundaries stick with other people is to stick to them yourselves. If you don’t abide by the rules you set, why would the other person? 8. Focus on yourself When setting boundaries, you might think you’re coming off unfriendly or confrontational. When voicing a boundary, try to focus on yourself. Phrase it in a way that makes you the focus so it wouldn’t feel like an attack on the other person. For example, instead of saying “Stop texting or calling me when I’m at work”, say “I don’t answer my phone or texts at work. It’s best to text or call me in the evenings.”
9. Communicate Effective communication in a relationship takes assumptions, guesses, or false expectations out of the equation. Effectively communicating doesn’t mean you have to overexplain or justify your boundary. It means that you are able to briefly and directly state your boundary and the consequences in a clear manner. When someone violates or oversteps, that’s when you should raise your concerns. Once again, focus on yourself and not the other person when voicing your boundary.
10. Allow for change You may have a few basic boundaries like how you deserve to be treated with respect or how you have the right to your privacy. This may change based on whether you are at work, at home, at your neighbor's home, etc. Your boundaries regarding a relationship would naturally vary depending on the setting, the type of relationship you have, who the other person is, and your history with the person.
Your boundaries would likely be different for your parents, significant other, friends, coworkers, boss, children, and whoever else. You may have looser boundaries with your friends and partner than with your children. And if you have a toxic family member or coworker, you may have stricter boundaries for them. What applies to people also applies to the setting you are in. Boundaries you have at work may be more strict than the ones you have at home. And boundaries you have in your own home might not apply when you’re in someone else’s home.
11. Recognize and respect others It’s also just as important for you to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries, even if they’re different than yours. It’s important to establish a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
12. Use common sense Most boundaries aren’t explicitly stated. Usually, there’s no need to voice a boundary unless it’s overstepped or violated. It’s not your job to determine other people’s boundaries. However, you can still be observant and make reasonable conclusions based on how someone reacts to your behavior towards them. 13. Practice, practice, practice When a boundary is broken, try not to react in a hostile way. Remove yourself from the situation. Rather than argue, state your boundary, and follow through with the consequences.
14. Take back your space
When someone repeatedly violates and oversteps, it’s best to put some distance between you and the other person. Things get more complicated when someone of authority (e.g. boss, cop, teacher) is the one repeatedly violating your boundaries. In this case, it’s best to weigh your options. In the end, it’s up to you whether you want to tolerate the repeated violations to avoid the risks, walk away from it if it’s possible, or involve someone of higher authority.
Boundaries are essentially a form of self-care.
Don't forget to close the shower curtain.