What are Personal Boundaries and How Do You Go About Setting Personal Boundaries?
Hello, my friends. This subject has been on my heart for a while now, but I have hesitated to write about it. You see, setting personal boundaries has always been a struggle for me. I want so desperately to please people and to help them, it sometimes gets in the way of my setting personal boundaries. We all need some healthy boundaries. They are like a wall or a shield that surrounds us and protects not only us but our families as well. Often times, setting personal boundaries also involves saying “no” or disappointing someone, which is another reason that I struggle with it. Perhaps I am not the only one? Do you struggle with setting personal boundaries too? Let’s look into it in further detail and see if we can share and help each other.
What is meant by personal boundaries?
There are actually several types of personal boundaries.
- Material boundaries –focuses on lending out your material possessions.
- Physical boundaries – Your “bubble” of personal space. How much you want to touch and be touched and by whom.
- Spiritual boundaries – your connection and relationship with God (and how you let other’s influence it.)
- Mental boundaries – your thoughts, values, and opinions and how strongly you hold to them or let them be influenced.
- Emotional boundaries – separating your emotions from someone else’s, as well as your responsibility for those emotions.
Examples of personal boundaries
All of these personal boundaries keep us safe. Love has to have limits. For example, if I lend my car out to a friend and they wreck the car, it’s going to be me that’s without a vehicle. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t lend my main vehicle out. If something were to happen, I can’t afford to be without it. I don’t feel guilty about it either. That’s just the way that things are and it’s a personal material boundary that I have in place to protect myself and my family that depend on my main vehicle.
As an example of physical boundaries, all of us have a bubble of personal space that we feel uncomfortable when others invade. Similarly, we all have different comfort levels with physical touch. Admittedly, I’m a hugger. Being hugged does not bother me in the slightest. I’ve even been completely ok with being hugged by a complete stranger in the middle of the grocery store after an act of kindness.
I have a good friend that is not a hugger. She is amazing and loves her family. She’s one of the warmest individuals I’ve ever encountered, but she usually reserves hugs for family members and very rarely a close friend. After learning this about her, when I go see her, I do not initiate a hug. We greet each other warmly. I bask in the glow of her warmth and hospitality. We usually have a great visit that leaves me feeling uplifted and is hard to walk away from. I try to respect her personal physical boundaries. Occasionally, she does give me a side hug when I leave.
Although I feel like I’m pretty firm in the first 5 personal boundaries I listed above, the emotional boundaries get me. By nature, I’m an empathetic person. That does not mean that I have some super-power to instantly read other people’s emotions. It means that without realizing it, I put myself in the other person’s shoes and when they hurt, I hurt. When they are happy, I’m happy. I seem to absorb their emotions. For the longest time, I hated that about myself.
As you might guess, I’m not much of a horror movie person or a tragic ending fan. As I have gotten older, I have realized that this trait can be a strength and without it, I would not be the person that I am. However, it’s also my Achilles heel. That’s why my emotional boundaries are weak and why I hope that together we can try to strengthen mine and yours.
Why Do You Need to Set Emotional Boundaries?
I thought that I had set some emotional boundaries, but after a recent experience with some very minor illness, I realized how much stress I had been under because mine are constantly being pushed. I need to emotionally separate myself from my environment and from other people. This does not mean that I no longer need to care. On the contrary, I would not be me if I did not care.
However, I need to protect myself. For my emotional and mental well-being, there must be some limits in place. This will let me better think rationally when others are emotional so that I can guide them to a more mindful state. It will also free me of responsibility and guilt for other people’s feelings. Ultimately, taking on someone else’s pain and worries does not ease the burden on them. It only puts one on you.
How Do You Set Better Boundaries?
This seems to be the next logical question in our journey of setting personal boundaries. Let’s see if together we can strengthen our emotional force fields. Setting boundaries is a learned skill, which is good news for all of us, so let’s get to it. I received some very good advice on this from one of my readers, and I’m so thankful that she shared.
1) Realize that You are Not Responsible for Other People’s Emotions and Reactions.
You are responsible for communicating your healthy boundaries in a respectful manner. You are NOT responsible for how other people choose to react or feel. If you are an empathetic person, this may be hard for you. It’s hard for me. I tend to try to take responsibility for everything and everyone. However, it is necessary. I must recognize that other people are responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions, just as I am responsible for mine. At some point, there has to be a healthy boundary that says “I’ve said my piece. I’ve communicated my thoughts and feelings in a respectful manner, but this is your problem to deal with. I have every confidence in you that you can handle this.” And then let it be. You cannot solve everyone’s problems for them.
2) Acknowledge the Separation Between You and Other People.
That seems an odd statement, doesn’t it? Sometimes you can get so caught up with another person, a relationship called codependency develops. Codependency is an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one that requires support in some fashion. In the words of General Akbar, “It’s a trap!!!” (Star Wars) Have you ever felt like you were someone else’s security blanket? Perhaps to the point where they could not function without you and you felt you were attached at the hip or constantly shackled to them?
That person may have developed a co-dependent relationship with you. They want you to feel what they feel, and think that their problems should be your problems. Obviously, this is unhealthy. You have to realize that despite what they think, you are 2 separate people. You do not have to (and should not) feel what they feel and all their problems are not yours to solve.
3) Say “No” Simply but Firmly.
I don’t know about you, but I feel guilty sometimes when I can’t do something. I am constantly trying to transform my perfectionism, but sometimes it still gets in the way and I want to be able to do everything! To make up for it, I try to over-explain why I can’t do such and such or give my reason. Sometimes it works and my response is met with understanding. However, it also sometimes backfires on me and the other person starts arguing with me. They try to convince me that I really can, even though I’ve just said that I can’t.
While this response may come from good intentions of trying to help you solve your problem, it’s usually incredibly annoying. You may feel like you are being pressured into something that you really don’t want to do. Say “No” simply but firmly. For example, I needed to be in 2 places at once today. I had to tell someone “No, I’m sorry I can’t make it.” It was tough because they took it pretty hard, but I had tried my best and it just didn’t work out.
4) Keep the focus on Yourself.
In a world where I love to help people, this one is hard. However, I am realizing more and more the importance of taking care of myself too. In many ways, setting boundaries is a form of self-care. You have to fill your own bucket up before you can fill someone else’s. Doing so can help to increase your fulfillment while decreasing the risk of burn-out. When you are communicating your boundaries phrasing is important. Instead of “Stop bothering me when I walk in the door.” You might instead say “I need some time to myself when I get home from work. I need about 30 minutes to unwind before supper.” This respectfully and politely communicates your needs and how they can be met.
5) Stand Firm.
As it says in Matthew 5:37, Your “yes” has to be yes, and your “No” has to mean no. You need to stick to your guns with the boundaries you have set and keep your resolve. Just as children know if you don’t really mean no when you say it, adults do too. Unfortunately, some will walk right over you if you let them. It might be unintentional, but you need to realize and acknowledge the value of yourself. You have to stand firm in the boundaries that you set because they will be tested. Don’t let things slide “just this once,” and then the next time “just one more time…” that leads to a series of one more times and before you know it your boundary is out the window. You are in control of you and it’s your responsibility to stand up for yourself.
Setting personal boundaries is not always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright difficult. If you are struggling with it, don’t feel alone because I am right there with you. There are several types of personal boundaries, but for me, the one that I struggle with the most is the emotional boundaries. It’s hard to separate myself from other people’s feelings sometimes. However, it’s a basic part of self-care and of valuing yourself. We all need personal boundaries because they help us to do what we do better. It leads to more fulfillment and decreases the risk of burn-out.
You are not responsible for other people’s emotions, feelings, problems, and their reactions. You are responsible for your own and for communicating those boundaries in a respectful manner. Taking on someone’s pain does not lessen what they feel; it only hurts you. Empathetic people, I think, are particularly vulnerable to difficulties in setting personal boundaries. However, it’s a learned skill that gets easier with practice. I know that you can do it. I know I can do it. In fact, let’s do it together!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your journey with me. You can find me on Facebook or Twitter, or simply leave me a comment below. Happy Questing!