Updated: Mar 20
Setting healthy boundaries is important for our emotional well-being and for engaging in healthy relationships.
"Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others. Their presence helps us express ourselves as the unique individuals we are, while we acknowledge the same in others." Essential LifeSkills.
Do you have issues with setting boundaries?
Have you ever felt that you have lost the sense of who you are? Have you felt that you accommodate other people to the extent that you no longer know your own wants or needs? Do you feel guilty about saying no or setting limits? Have you ever felt that people are “walking all over you”? Do you feel that people are taking advantage of you? Do you often end up feeling that you are not respected?
If so, you might have problems in setting healthy boundaries or with communicating your boundaries in a way that is understood by others.
Why are healthy boundaries necessary?
Why is setting healthy boundaries in our lives important? Unhealthy boundaries can lead to a variety of issues such as anger, resentment, stress and burn out. Our feeling of self-worth, self-respect, confidence and identity can affect how we set boundaries and the way we set boundaries in a positive or negative way. Healthy boundaries can be the difference between a healthy or unhealthy - even toxic - relationship. Setting healthy boundaries is important for our general well-being and happiness and an important part of self-care both in a personal and professional setting.
You can make a choice and take control
It is easy to fall victim to the circumstances and put the blame on others for crossing your boundaries. However, blaming others and feeling mistreated will most likely not make you feel better nor help the situation and it will probably not change their behaviour. In contrast, taking ownership of the situation and thereby responsibility for not setting healthy limits and for compromising your own needs, values and beliefs in order to appease others might help.
Taking responsibility and changing the way you think and respond to a given situation is not an easy task. You may have been entangled in this behaviour for so long that you have difficulties defining your own boundaries. Even when you do succeed you may feel guilty or that you have let people down.
There could be several possible reasons and explanations to why you have developed this compliant pattern of behaviour. It could be that you come from a background where you had to avoid saying no in order to keep others happy, to keep the peace or to feel accepted. This could have taken place at home, at school, at work, at the sports club or any other place that have been important to you. There could be other reasons behind this behaviour such as low self-worth or lack of self-compassion, always finding that others needs or problems must be more important than your own.
However, the good news is that as overwhelming setting boundaries might seem there is help to find.
Since we cannot change other people, changing the situation will have to start with you taking charge of the problem: by you making a conscious choice to work on setting healthy boundaries and thereby empower yourself rather than letting be.
What can you do?
You can choose to take charge by seeking professional help from for instance a psychotherapist. Therapy will differ depending on the specifics, history and severity of your problem with setting boundaries and which areas of your life it affects.
Generally, people with boundary issues will benefit from working on getting in touch with their own needs, values, beliefs and wants again as they have often put their focus on other people’s needs and expectations.
I like to use the metaphor of a stop light. Many of us are only conscious of being at the green-light- zone: go ahead, everything is fine, to suddenly finding ourselves at the red-light-zone: stop, the line has been crossed. Identifying, defining and learning to recognise your own personal yellow-light-zone: alert, red zone is approaching can be a helpful step in the journey of learning healthy boundary setting.
Another step will be to learn how to communicate your boundaries to your surroundings without it coming out the wrong way, and without ending up feeling guilty or torn by setting boundaries and while being true to yourself.
As we are all different with our unique personality and life history there might be other underlying issues or relationship problems involved that could benefit from being worked on in therapy as well.
Different types of boundary issues
Since relationships are organic structures that cannot be defined in a black-white manner, there will naturally be other variations of boundary issues than already mentioned. As an example, you might experience the opposite of what I have described; that you have difficulties interpreting other people’s boundaries and find that this interferes with your or your loved ones life or that your boundaries are so rigid that you find it difficult to connect to other people.
If you would like help with being true to yourself and getting in touch with your own or others boundaries I will be happy to help you find the best solution for you.
© 2018 Bjørg Plougmand. All Rights Reserved.
Bjørg Plougmand (Biork) is a Psychotherapist, originally from Denmark and currently residing in Singapore. Bjørg is passionate about resilience and assisting clients in overcoming hardships in their lives while considering their unique story, perspective, values, beliefs and strengths.
Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (1992), Boundaries, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan
Hereford, Z., Healthy Personal Boundaries & How to Establish Them, Essential LifeSkills
Kairns, D. M. (1992), Protect yourself: set boundaries, Academic OneFile
Katherine, A. (2000), Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries, New York, Ny: Fireside
McKie, L. & Cunningham-Burley, S. (2005): Families in Societies: Boundaries and Relationships, Bristol, UK: The Policy Press Whitfield, C.L (1993), Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self, Deerfield, FL: Health Communication, Inc.