Establishing healthy boundaries delineates appropriate behaviour in our relationships, promoting safety for both parties. The act of setting such boundaries is essential for self-care and fostering positive relationships.
Individual boundaries vary based on factors such as culture, personality, and social context, adapting to different situations. What might be suitable boundaries in a professional setting may not align with those in a casual gathering with longtime friends. The act of setting boundaries helps articulate our expectations within our diverse relationships.
A boundary serves as a demarcation or perimeter that distinguishes an individual as separate from others.
While our skin serves as a clear physical boundary, we also possess interpersonal boundaries that extend beyond our physical selves. Take, for instance, the discomfort when someone invades our personal space. The definition of personal space varies based on cultural norms, the nature of the relationship, and the social setting.
What feels like comfortable boundaries with a partner at home might not be suitable in a different social context, such as attending a business dinner together. Similarly, the acceptable level of physical intimacy in public spaces differs significantly across cultures.
In the UK, public displays of affection, like hugging and kissing, are widely accepted, with embraces between friends, partners, and family members considered appropriate in shared public areas. However, there are individuals who find hugging uncomfortable in any situation outside of private moments with their partner. These preferences vary from person to person.
Establishing Healthy Boundaries
The process of setting healthy boundaries starts with self-awareness. It involves a clear understanding of our expectations for ourselves and others, as well as recognising what we are comfortable or uncomfortable with in specific situations. Effectively setting healthy boundaries necessitates strong communication skills that convey assertiveness and clarity.
Assertiveness, in this context, means openly and respectfully expressing your feelings. It does not involve making demands but requires others to attentively listen to you. Setting healthy boundaries is a way to assert your needs and priorities as part of self-care. Here are three simple steps to guide you in establishing healthy boundaries:
1 - Maintain clarity and straightforwardness without raising your voice.
2 - Clearly express your needs or requests in positive terms, focusing on what you'd like rather than what you don't want or dislike.
3 - Embrace any discomfort that may arise, whether it's feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse.
The third step is frequently encountered by people struggling with weak boundaries, co-dependency issues, or a tendency to please others.
In certain cases, adults may have been brought up by caregivers who instilled the belief that articulating their needs is negative and selfish. Yet, failing to confront the discomfort associated with establishing healthy boundaries in adulthood can result in settling for unhealthy relationships marked by resentment, manipulation, and abuse.
Benefits of Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Examples of Well-Defined Boundaries
Politely refusing anything you don't wish to engage in.
Communicating your feelings in a responsible manner.
Honestly discussing your experiences.
Responding promptly in the given moment.
Confronting issues directly with the person concerned, rather than involving a third party.
Explicitly stating your expectations instead of assuming others will understand them.
Establishing healthy boundaries also involves recognising various boundary types in relationships, as depicted in the diagram below titled '7 Types of Boundaries.'
Personal and Emotional Boundaries
Within the depicted diagram, personal boundaries encompass all seven types that significantly impact our personal well-being.
Thriving occurs when we maintain healthy boundaries across all seven domains. However, if others breach or disregard these boundaries, there is a personal cost unless we address the issue.
Emotional boundaries, a specific domain, dictate how emotionally available we are to others. While we all require support during unexpected life events or assistance in processing daily stressors, our availability is not limitless. We need to prioritise self-care, as it forms the foundation of health. Prioritising others over ourselves can lead to burnout, which is very possible without clear boundaries.
Failure to maintain healthy emotional boundaries may result in feelings of resentment, guilt, and exhaustion.
It is entirely acceptable to communicate your limitations to those making demands on your emotional resources. If they resist or persist in violating your boundaries, it may signal an imbalanced, problematic, or even toxic relationship.
In such cases, restate your boundaries and withdraw calmly. There is no need to over-explain or apologise for setting boundaries, as everyone has the right to express their preferences and limits.
How to Set Personal Boundaries
When people persistently encroach upon or disregard our personal boundaries, it may necessitate a fundamental shift in the nature of the relationship. Negotiating this change becomes challenging, particularly in situations where we cannot easily distance ourselves, such as with co-workers or family members.
Establishing Work Boundaries
Maintaining healthy boundaries in the workplace has become increasingly challenging due to flexible working arrangements, remote and hybrid work setups, and technological advancements.
Initiating boundary-setting at work commences during the interview process, where you can define acceptable work practices, especially concerning accessibility during working hours, after-hours work expectations, and remote work arrangements.
Here are some guidelines for implementing healthy boundaries in the workplace:
Evaluate your personal boundaries based on your values and priorities. Unclear boundaries make it easier for others to overstep them, leading to discomfort, stress, and potential resentment.
Communicate directly and professionally. Refrain from discussing colleagues with one another. Clearly communicate your availability and how you handle emails received outside of regular work hours.
Establish clear structures for your work, including designated times for focused tasks. Communicate when you prefer not to be disturbed.
Maintain professional relationships. While forming close friendships with colleagues may be appealing, it can blur boundaries and lead to complications later on.
Delegate tasks appropriately to manage your workload effectively.
Be comfortable saying no when necessary.
Utilise technology to establish and uphold work boundaries. Keep others informed and use shareable project management tools.
If despite your efforts, your boundaries are consistently crossed or violated in the workplace, it may be an indication of bullying or harassment.
Establishing Healthy Boundaries in Friendships
Maintaining healthy boundaries in friendships involves considering some of the points discussed earlier, particularly understanding your personal limits concerning time and emotional investment.
These boundaries may evolve with life events that prompt shifts in priorities. For instance, the time and energy allocated to friendships may change after starting a family, with children becoming the central focus. Friendships may temporarily take a back seat until your children gain more independence.
Establishing and preserving boundaries with friends necessitates mutual trust and respect. Consult the 'seven types of boundaries' diagram above to guide your considerations for boundaries in friendships.
Boundary setting with friends who have overstepped or violated them can be challenging, often accompanied by pushback. In such cases, reaffirm the boundary and be prepared to take a break from the friendship by temporarily ignoring messages and calls if the pushback persists.
Boundaries serve as the foundation for cultivating healthy relationships.
Romantic relationships can encounter challenges when assumptions are made about shared values and relationship goals.
The key to fostering healthy intimate partnerships lies in open communication between partners regarding mutual needs and expectations.
Through the establishment of boundaries in relationships, we discern which connections are conducive to well-being and which are not. If friends, family members, or colleagues resist our boundaries by disregarding them, challenging them, or severing ties, it indicates preexisting issues within the relationship that needed resolution.
It's important to note that boundaries are not akin to walls. Actions that construct walls, such as abruptly cutting off communication without allowing a response (commonly referred to as ghosting) or employing prolonged silent treatment, are not reflective of setting healthy boundaries but rather constitute emotional abuse.
Establishing healthy boundaries is a vital life skill and a fundamental aspect of self-care. Healthy boundaries are the foundation for nurturing positive relationships.
For those unaccustomed to setting boundaries, initial feelings of guilt or selfishness may arise. However, setting boundaries is imperative for maintaining mental health and overall well-being.
The nature of appropriate boundaries can vary depending on the context, but it is crucial to establish them in all areas of life where interpersonal interactions occur.
Ultimately, while setting boundaries is crucial, it is equally essential to honor and respect the boundaries of others, whether they be parents, children, romantic partners, managers, co-workers, or any individuals we engage with.
Fully qualified counsellor, psychotherapist and trauma therapist based in Orpington, Kent
Face-to-face in person or online counselling
My specialism is on the impacts of trauma, from events such as childhood neglect, childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape, domestic and emotional abuse, accidents, violence, serious illness, and financial trauma (redundancy and bankruptcy). But I work with clients with many other life challenges and emotional difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, OCD behaviours, PTSD, self-harm, and eating issues.
I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, Biggin Hill, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley