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Personal Boundaries – What Are They And Why Do We Have Them

Personal Boundaries – What Are They and Why Do We Have Them…

Boundaries are the limits and rules we set for how close we allow others to get to us and how we conduct ourselves and our lives in relationship to others.

Many people have a belief that if their kids, partner and everyone else is happy, they'll be happy and they do everything within their power to make that happen – often at their own expense.

It's not true and it’s not healthy for us to live like this.

When we believe this we have poor boundaries and get caught up in other people’s problems and treat their issues as if they are our own. We set ourselves up to fail, be mistreated, manipulated or used.

We need to recognise that everyone is on their own journey and not become overly involved in other people's business and concentrate on our own lives. We need to appreciate and recognise their boundaries and not try to solve or fix them, and deal with reality, not what we'd like it to be. We also have to own our own personal boundaries and use them to filter out what is acceptable in our lives and what is not.

The reason many ignore their own boundaries is complex. Often it is that we don't even know what boundaries are! Sometimes our belief about what we should or shouldn't do, like being accommodating, helpful, and pleasing everyone makes us unable to say no, and this wanting to be liked rules our lives.

Often when I hear people talk about boundaries it's all about how they allow others to treat them but there's a more important side, what is always overlooked… it's the internal boundaries we have with ourselves. These boundaries are much harder to set and to adhere to as we need a certain level of consciousness to even be aware of why we act and behave the way we do. Once we understand that, we need to hold ourselves accountable to the internal boundaries we set for our higher good.

Learning about ourself:

First, we have to affirm our own needs. I know that people with weak boundaries tend to have a low awareness of their own needs so we start by making an inventory of our own needs and our understanding of our core beliefs. What many ladies discover is that they sacrifice themselves and their own needs by putting themselves last and when they do, it breeds resentment.

To assess our own boundaries we need to have looked inside ourselves by doing our own personal development work and when we are aware of our own core beliefs we will understand why we adopted the stories that are driving us and why we accept how we allow other people to treat us.

When we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we can evaluate our need for belonging and acceptance. We can examine if we are satisfied with our need to love and be loved as well as be respected and have self-respect. The question is to what extent are our boundaries helping or hindering the satisfaction of our needs.

So why is it important to have boundaries?

It’s important because healthy personal boundaries help us maintain a positive self-concept. It’s important because we can take better care of ourselves and not allow other people to define who we are.

Types of personal boundaries:

Personal boundaries come in three brackets. Boundaries can be rigid, porous, or healthy.

In reality, healthy boundaries can be a little rigid and porous depending on the context.

Healthy: You have healthy boundaries if you: (1) value your own self worth and opinion, (2) don’t expect others to compromise their own values and don't compromise yours for other people, (3) are trustworthy and appropriately share personal information, (4) are accepting of others when they say no to you and don't need to control, manipulate or be right (5) are able to accept reality and not try to change it.

Rigid: You have rigid boundaries if you: (1) avoid intimacy and close relationships, (2) usually don’t ask for help and try to control everything, (3) have few close relationships and/or like to dominate, (4) may seem detached and/or unavailable, (5) distance yourself to avoid rejection (6) live in your masculine energy rather than feminine energy.

Porous: You have porous boundaries if you: (1) over-share personal information, (2) have difficulty saying no to the requests of others, (3) get over-involved with other’s problems, (4) tolerate abuse or disrespect, (5) people please or sell out on yourself.

We need to keep in mind that the appropriateness of boundaries depends heavily on the setting. What is appropriate when we are out with friends may not be appropriate when you’re at work or in a personal relationship. Maintaining boundaries is generally harder with those closest to us than with strangers. Different cultures also have different expectations of boundaries. For example, some cultures do not express emotions publicly while other cultures do.

Establishing healthy personal boundaries:

Healthy boundaries are important to maintain between yourself, your kids, partner, family, friends and people in the wider community.

Trust and believe in Yourself;

We have to recognize that we are in control of ourselves and we are our own highest authority. We need to know what we desire, want, and value. When we recognize that healthy boundaries allowed us to take better care of ourselves, we can use them to govern our own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

Our needs and feelings are as important as other people’s needs and feelings. This is often a difficult lesson for us to learn for two reasons; First, the spiritual lessons in our youth expected us to put other people first. Second, modelling from our parents often support the belief that we should care for our fellow man. Many Women subconsciously act in a manner where they sacrifice their life for their husband and kids and always take second place. This is not healthy as other people will only ever respect us as much as we respect ourselves and people will push us as far as we allow them to.

Learning to say NO is hard. How often do you say NO without feeling guilty or wrong?

Unfortunately, many women are people pleasers and conditioned to put their own personal needs on the back burner. We need to have a certain amount of “selfishness” as it is necessary for healthy personal boundaries. And it's not selfish – it's essential!

We all have a right to personal boundaries. We need to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us. When we recognize that boundaries are filters and they will permit what we deem as acceptable and not acceptable for us, they work. Our boundaries protect and define the value we see in ourselves. When we set clear and decisive limits, others will respect them if we live authentically and enforce them. If we don't, we'll just get more frustrated, confused and feel defeated.

Many ladies don't have clear boundaries as they haven't done the work necessary and if they do, the boundaries they set up are usually coming from a place of being a wounded soul and they usually have trouble enforcing them.

Even if we want respect, due to the inadequacy we feel from the stories we have told ourselves from what we experienced in our childhood, we often don’t consider we are worthy of it.

That's why I see boundary setting quite differently from many other experts. For boundaries to truly be effective we have to have a good understanding of ourselves and know why we choose the partners we do or allow negative behaviour to occur in the first place.

Signs of unhealthy boundaries:

We give as much as we can for the sake of giving;
We accept and allow poor behaviour;
We feel guilty when we say no;
We don’t speak up when you are treated poorly;
We choose the wrong partners;
We are submissive and afraid of being upfront;
We don't respect others boundaries
We allow others to infringe on our personal space and/or we do it to others.

It’s important for all of us to define our internal and external personal boundaries. They will dictate how we approach relationships with our partner, kids, friends and acquaintances. Our boundaries help us live in-tune with our desires, needs, and feelings. We can say no to the things that we don’t want to do and yes to the things that we want to do.

Clearly established boundaries help us to take care of ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Strong boundaries help us to become less concerned about how we are viewed and more satisfied with the perceptions we have of ourselves. But to be effective, we’ve got to know and love ourselves first or we’ll be expecting other people to fill us up and give us the love and understanding that we are responsible for. We must also be confident and capable of enforcing our own boundaries.

When we love and trust ourselves we have the power to make ourselves happy and whole and we won't need something or someone outside ourselves to do it for us. When we have healthy boundaries, we will choose a loving partner and be responsible and accountable in maintaining the relationship and address any concerns as they come up. We will be free and confident to speak our truth and not be in relationships that don't serve us.

When we have fair and enforceable boundaries, we will provide a healthy example to our kids and others how they should treat us. We will treat ourselves with the same level of respect as we want to receive from others.


Fiona May 

Relationship and Transition Coach

Women On Transition

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