We have all seen the signs that read, “No Trespassing—Violators Will Be Prosecuted,” which sends a clear message that if you violate that boundary and cross the line, there will be a consequence. This type of boundary is easy to understand because you can see the sign and the border it protects. Personal boundaries, on the other hand, can be harder to define because the lines are invisible, can change and are unique to each individual.
Personal boundaries, just like the “No Trespassing” sign, define where you end and others begin and are determined by the amount of physical and emotional space you allow between yourself and others. Personal boundaries help you decide what types of communication, behavior and interaction are acceptable.
Types of Personal Boundaries
Physical boundaries provide a barrier between you and an intruding force, like a Band-Aid protects a wound from bacteria.
Physical boundaries include your body, sense of personal space and sexual orientation. These boundaries are expressed through clothing, shelter, noise tolerance, verbal instruction and body language.
An example of physical boundary violation is a close talker. Your immediate and automatic reaction is to step back in order to reset your personal space. By doing this, you send a non-verbal message that when this person stands so close, you feel an invasion of your personal space. If the person continues to move closer, you might verbally protect your boundary by telling him/her to stop crowding you.
Other examples of physical boundary invasions are:
• Inappropriate touching, such as unwanted sexual advances.
• Looking through others’ email, phone, and journal.
These boundaries protect your sense of self-esteem and ability to separate your feelings from others’. When you have weak emotional boundaries, it’s like getting caught in the midst of a hurricane with no protection. You expose yourself to being greatly affected by others’ words, thoughts and actions, and end up feeling bruised, wounded and battered.
These include beliefs, behaviors, choices, sense of responsibility and your ability to be intimate with others.
An example of an emotional boundary violation in a romantic relationship would be your partner pressuring you to reveal what you talk about with your therapist or trusted friend(s). Your partner can ask, but do you respond by saying “that’s between my therapist/friend and me” (healthy boundary) or do you divulge the details although you would rather not (unhealthy boundary)?
Other examples of emotional boundary invasions are:
• Not knowing how to separate your feelings from your partner’s and allowing his/her mood to dictate your level of happiness or sadness (a.k.a. codependency).
• Sacrificing your plans, dreams, and goals in order to please others.
• Not taking responsibility for yourself and blaming others for your problems.
Being in a relationship does not have to mean losing your sense of individuality. It may seem obvious that no one would want his/her boundaries violated and would want to maintain their autonomy.
So why is boundary violation a common issue? Why do we NOT enforce or uphold our boundaries?
1. FEAR of rejection and, ultimately, abandonment.
2. FEAR of confrontation.
4. Lack of solid knowledge, as many of us were not taught how to effectively draw healthy boundaries.
Awareness is the first step in establishing and enforcing your boundaries.
Assess the current state of your boundaries, using the list below:
HEALTHY BOUNDARIES allow you to:
• Have high self-esteem and self-respect.
• Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing and trusting relationship.
• Protect physical and emotional space from intrusion.
• Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power are shared.
• Be assertive. Confidently and truthfully say “yes” or “no” and be okay when others say “no” to you.
• Separate your needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others. Recognize that your boundaries and needs are different from others.
• Empower yourself to make healthy choices and take responsibility for yourself.
UNHEALTHY BOUNDARIES are characterized by:
• Sharing too much too soon or, at the other end of the spectrum, closing yourself off and not expressing your need and wants.
• Feeling responsible for others’ happiness.
• Inability to say “no” for fear of rejection or abandonment.
• Weak sense of your own identity. You base how you feel about yourself on how others treat you.
• Disempowerment. You allow others to make decisions for you; consequently, you feel powerless and do not take responsibility for your own life.
Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries
(Modified from the book, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, by Anne Katherine)
• When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, get angry or apologize for the boundary you are setting.
• You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for clearly and respectfully communicating your boundary. If it upsets the other person, be confident knowing it is not your problem. Some people, especially those accustomed to controlling, abusing or manipulating you, might test you. Plan on it, expect it, but remain firm. Remember, your behavior must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologizing.
• At first, you will probably feel selfish, guilty or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and tell yourself you have a right to protect yourself. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety or low self-esteem prevent you from taking care of yourself.
• When you feel anger or resentment, or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then communicate assertively.
• Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. It is a process. Set them in your own time frame, not when someone else tells you.
• Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries. Eliminate toxic people from your life—those who want to manipulate, abuse and control you.
Establishing healthy boundaries and enforcing them builds self-worth and confidence—all very sexy qualities.
I hope you take the time this week to put into practice some of the above ideas. Please share any insight, and even struggles, so we can support each other right here.
And, as always, take care of you.
Love Love Love
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Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered companies, celebrities, professional athletes and individuals to Live Fearless and Free. Recently, Terri released her first CD Meditation Transformation. Follow Terri on Twitter @terri_cole.