Boundaries enable us to have a sense of ourselves; they delineate where we end and others begin. They allow us to identify our differences from others and to acknowledge that we have separate perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. We know who we are in relation to others when we have healthy boundaries. We can respond from a place of clarity and strength. Personal boundaries give us a foundation for healthy relating.
Unhealthy boundaries tend to be either too rigid or too loose. Many people have rigid boundaries in some situations and very permeable boundaries in others. People with overly permeable boundaries may be easily influenced, often lose a sense of themselves when around others, have a strong need to please and be liked, can be easily distracted and sometimes overwhelmed by people, have difficulty saying no, and are often unaware of their own wants and needs. On the other hand, those with rigid boundaries tend to keep people at a distance, are uncomfortable sharing feelings or revealing information about themselves, don’t like to display weakness, and may be inflexible and have fixed ideas and opinions. If you have healthy boundaries you let others in when appropriate, are flexible and adaptable to change, clearly define and communicate your boundaries with others, know what you want and need and can directly ask for what you want, and are aware of and respectful of others’ boundaries.
Here are some tips for establishing healthy boundaries:
1. Identify your goals with regard to boundaries
What new behaviors do you want to establish? In what situations and with what people do you want to improve your boundaries? How will your life be positively impacted by these changes? What fears or concerns do you have?
2. Cultivate self-awareness when you’re in the presence of others
Get to know how you feel when you are connected to yourself and centered. What is your experience in your body, what are you feeling, what are your thoughts? Become aware of what takes you away from your center. Ask questions of yourself: Am I merging with him/her? Are my walls up? Do I feel like withdrawing? What do I need to do in this moment to have a healthy boundary with this person?
3. Start small
Create small goals initially, goals that are realistic and attainable. If you want to let down your walls, start with people that you feel safe with. If you want to practice saying no or asking for something that you want, begin with small items and practice this in situations where you feel safe. Then gradually build up to more challenging situations.
4. Be clear, calm, and firm when you set limits
Keep it simple; elaborate explanations or justifications are usually unnecessary. Be specific when that’s appropriate. You may need to remind yourself that it’s okay, in fact necessary, to establish boundaries and that you have the right to do that.
5. Allow for people’s responses
You may be met with resistance. Be prepared to respond to their reactions without being defensive. Remain firm, yet give them room to have their reactions and feelings.
6. If establishing new boundaries is relatively new and unfamiliar, you may be uncomfortable for awhile
You may feel awkward. You may discover that you are afraid of rejection if you change your way of relating. Making a change like this is likely to unearth some core issues that underlie your difficulties with boundaries. Herein lies an opportunity to explore deeper aspects of yourself.