From childhood, we’re often told to adapt ourselves to make others feel comfortable. For instance, in schools with dress codes, we are told what we should wear or within our personal lives with family, we are told we are being rude if we do not display certain social behaviours (“I don’t care if you don’t want to hug your uncle, it’s rude not to!”). The pressure to conform is always there.
Unfortunatelly, we are taught that in order to not offend or hurt others, we need to put the feelings of others ahead of our own needs. This can lead to us being unaware of what our own boundaries are in our adulthood. If we look at the word “boundary” itself in the Cambridge English dictionary, it is defined as “a real or imagined line that marks the edge or limit of something, the limit of a subject or principle, the limit of what someone considers to be acceptable behaviour.”
So what are personal boundaries?
Personal boundaries can be understood as the lines we create for ourselves in terms of our level of comfort around others. In other words, it is what we feel is right for ourselves and its violation can lead to discomfort. (Welsch, von Castell and Hecht, 2019)
Boundaries can be also:
- Physical (related to hugging others or our physical space),
- Verbal (how others talk to us),
- Emotional (our emotional well-being),
- Sexual (protecting our needs and safety sexually),
- Material (our personal belongings),
- Related to time (use and misuse of our time),
- Environmental (home, work, family, friends)
- Social media related (related to healthy and respectful communication).
Personal boundaries don’t have to be expressed for them to exist. However, they are more likely to be violated if we don’t communicate them. As social psychology researcher Brene Brown says, “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Once you know your boundaries, you can communicate them.
Do we need to communicate Boundaries?
Although it isn’t always easy and not everyone may agree or understand them, when we don’t communicate our boundaries they are more likely not to be followed. It can be challenging to set boundaries, but once we do it, we can feel comfortable knowing our needs have been communicated. And, if someone chooses to violate our boundaries after that, we would be within our rights to create further distance between ourselves and that person or choose to stop contact with that person.
Why is setting healthy boundaries important?
Not everyone has the same boundaries. Most people aren’t able to guess what another person’s boundaries are. People who may have lower emotional intelligence (EQ) can gain an understanding when personal boundaries are clearly communicated to them. Additionally, it helps to communicate our needs for a healthy interaction with someone else. One way to practice long-lasting self-care is to set healthy boundaries with the people in our lives. Boundaries are dynamic, ever evolving and will change with us as we grow, meet new people and become aware of what we need for our mental or physical health.
How do we set healthy boundaries?
Define your limits (what your needs are, what supports and detracts from your well-being)
Openly communicate your boundaries to people in your life
Remind people if needed (sticking to your boundaries and needs)
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to things that don’t serve you
Take time for yourself
Welsch R, von Castell C, Hecht H. The anisotropy of personal space. PLoS One. 2019 Jun 4;14(6):e0217587. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217587. PMID: 31163063; PMCID: PMC6548369.
Faitakis, M., 2021 https://www.thesmujournal.ca/editor/the-importance-of-setting-boundaries