“Healthy boundaries are not walls. They are gates and fences that allow you to enjoy the beauty of your own garden.”
What are personal boundaries and what do they give us?
Our personal boundaries are the rules that each of us make about how far others can go in terms of relating to us. Boundaries protect us from hurt and intrusion from other people. They give us a way of delineating our own personal and physical space and our privacy.
A boundary signifies that ‘You may go this far and no further!’ We all have the right to them and they are our own responsibility to set as we choose.
They define our limits and guidelines, so that those around us will know what we will tolerate, both physically and mentally, and what we will not. We can use words, body language, signs or actions to make it known that we will not have our personal boundaries violated.
Boundaries help to assert our personal rights, delineating personal space, physically and emotionally. They are about saying ‘no’ to people who attempt to disrespect our limits. There is no need to provide excuse or explanation.
Being ‘nice’ is all very well, but when someones tries to break boundaries, it is important to be firm and assertive. One can still be kind and thoughtful and maintain good boundaries.
The terms manspreading refers to some men’s body positions, usually on public transport, involving having legs wide apart in such a way that others’ space is taken up and impinged upon.
Often, this means that the man in questions is occupying more than one seat. It is definitely a breaking of boundaries in terms of others’ personal space.
Some people challenge this, as part of self-care, politely asking the person to allow more space for others. Sometimes this is effective……sometimes not.
Do you have any experience of challenging manspreading? If so, how did you deal with it? Do let me know in the comments box at the end of this post.
Self Care and Care for Others
Setting firm boundaries is a vital part of looking after oneself. It means that we are looking after ourselves in terms of preventing people intruding on us, in many ways.
In the wider world there is a need for boundaries in terms of other people. We can back off if someone stands too close, we can ask others to speak more quietly, or request that they do not smoke in our home.
In similar vein, if we are asked a favour and we do not want to oblige, it is quite acceptable to decline. Our time is our own, to use as we choose to.
Learning what we want and do not want to do and communicating this to others is an important part of setting boundaries for self care. It is therefore important to be sufficiently self aware of one’s own needs and to be able to express and describe them.
In understanding what we need and being able to delineate our own boundaries, we can model and set an example of healthy boundaries to those around us. Thus we help prevent others being mistreated.
Respecting other people’s boundaries is just as important as setting our own.
Ridiculing others’ views, making personal remarks, gossiping, breaking confidences, interrupting, being manipulative, not caring about others’ property, vandalism, disturbing neighbours and so on are all ways of breaking the boundaries that others have set.
“Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside.”
Boundaries in Personal Relationships.
In all relationships, no matter how close and loving, there need to be personal boundaries.
Each partner must learn to respect the other’s separateness, individuality and personal identity, interests, beliefs and preferences. In other words, a healthy relationship acknowledges otherness and difference.
Without this, one person might be subsumed by another’s opinions, rules and beliefs, merged into an unhealthy unit of control and submission.
For our personal safety, we need to put in place firm boundaries. This is not to be a killjoy, but to ensure that we are protected from harm.
Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.
Edwin Louis Cole
A boundary is not that at which something stops, but that from which something begins.
Protecting our boundaries is vital to our mental health. For they ensure that we are respected by others, so that we will not be intruded upon, hurt, undermined or derided. Having good boundaries is an empowering and freeing experience.
Such boundaries need to be physical- door locks, fences, gates- and psychological- developing the ability to fend off intrusive others.
Of course, sometimes this is difficult to achieve; there are people who are intent on disrespecting our boundaries and who will not take ‘no’ for an answer. Then we may need the help of others to reinstate our limits.
If setting boundaries is really too hard, sometimes people have psychotherapy to help them learn to do so, or embark on assertiveness courses.
Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Please, do not mistake my tendency to be
private and stand-offish for either
sheepishness or arrogance. Once you get to
know me, you’ll find I’m both lively and kind.
These high walls aren’t here because I want to
keep the whole world out. I’m just very
particular about who I invite back into mine.”
Next week’s post will continue this important theme, covering the topic of
Boundaries in Psychotherapy.