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Boundaries: The What's and the Why's

Today I want to discuss a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and something I am so passionate about, boundaries! A few years ago, I had no clue what boundaries were or how to create them, so I worked long and hard with an amazing therapist (shout out to Dr. D) to learn about them and practice implementing healthy boundaries in all areas of my life. Knowing how to create and maintain healthy boundaries has been the best thing I have ever done for myself. I want to spend the next couple of weeks on this topic. Today will be more of an outline of what boundaries are, and why we need them. Then next week I will address boundaries at work!

What are boundaries?

The dictionary defines boundaries as, guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits.” A simpler way to say that is boundaries are physical, mental, or emotional limits that you do not want to be crossed by others. Boundaries are a means to protect yourself and allow for healthy interactions. I read somewhere once that boundaries are what separate you from everyone else and allow you to be an individual. They also help other people know how to treat you. In essence, you are teaching those whom you interact with what is and isn’t ok to do or say to you.

An important side note about boundaries is that they are different for each person. Boundaries are a very personal thing and unique to each person and each relationship. For instance, the boundaries I must maintain with my mother and much different than the boundaries I maintain with my partner or co-workers. Boundaries are built through your internal gauges and therefore are as individual as you yourself are.

Why are boundaries important?

Boundaries are created to protect us. They allow us to feel safe within the relationships we hold. Boundaries protect you physically, mentally, and emotionally and are critical to living a healthy life. Another important aspect of boundaries is that they allow you to determine what you accept and integrate into your life, and just as importantly what you will not accept. They allow you to block out harmful interactions and actions and not be weighed down by them. Boundaries also assist us in traversing uncomfortable or “tricky” situations. They act as our internal thermometers letting us know that our bodies, minds, or feelings have been treated inappropriately.

Benefits of appropriate boundaries:

Boundaries give you the feeling of safety in both your environment and interactions with others. Appropriate boundaries are a mark of self-respect, and when you engage in these your confidence and self-love increase. I can speak from personal experience when you create and maintain a healthy boundary not only does it reduce stress, but it gives you such a sense of pride that you protected and stood up for yourself. It is addicting, suddenly you see a world where you can enjoy interactions and feel confident in them because you know how to keep yourself safe. Over time, with practice, setting boundaries become second nature and suddenly your relationships and interactions are life-giving, instead of ones that suck the energy and joy out of you. Also, when you maintain healthy boundaries, not only do you push away negative interactions and relationships, but the absence of those allows space for positive and healthy relationships/interactions.

What do appropriate boundaries look like?

This is the last section in today’s post, but it is the part that took the most practice for me. I have a major guilt complex and I struggled with setting boundaries because I knew they would upset people. Here is something super important that Dr. D taught me. I am not responsible for how someone else reacts to my boundaries. I do not need to justify or apologize for setting appropriate boundaries. Also, boundaries are about what you allow to be done or said to you, not about controlling what someone else does. I really struggled with this because I just wanted that person to quit being hurtful. But I had to learn I cannot change their actions, but I can change whether I listen to them or allow them in my presence. I think it is important to go into the process with your eyes open and to realize that there will be pushback. When someone that has always been allowed to mistreat you is suddenly told no more, they will not like it. Or if you finally stand up for yourself people will be shocked and wonder “what got into them?” But just remember why you are doing it and let go of the burden of their response.

Here is an example of a boundary I set with someone in my family. There is someone in my family that is extremely manipulative and harsh. I spent years being put down and talked to like I was worthless. Now, this is someone that I cannot easily just cut out of my life (family member), so it became imperative that I set boundaries. Also, just a bit of backstory, we are a military family and live very far away from all our relatives. So, we have weekly Skype or Facetime calls with family. I finally realized enough was enough so in a personal call I told this person that I would no longer allow them to say mean things about me or to use guilt trips to manipulate me. They were told that if they violated this boundary that week’s call would be immediately terminated, and they would lose the next week’s call. But that they could try again in two weeks. Seems reasonable right? Well, it was not taken well at all, and their reaction was to attack. Yay, I had the perfect opportunity to enforce that boundary and guess what the call ended right then. And guess what!?! That person only tested that boundary two more times, and after realizing that it wouldn’t be accepted, they quit! Did their low opinion of me change…nope! But did I have to hear it or be weighed down by it? NOPE! Now I don’t dread the calls because I know that I am in control of what I allow done to me! (Insert Mel Gibson yelling FREEDOM in Braveheart).

What are some relationships in your life that could benefit from healthy boundaries?

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