Boundaries - WHY and WHERE We Need Them In Our Lives
A boundary is defined as anything that marks a border ... an area where we will not allow anything in or out.
We are ultimately responsible for keeping and maintaining these boundaries.
- Find it hard to say NO to friends, family members, co-workers or often volunteer your time, yet find yourself constantly exhausted and overextended.
- Worry about what others will think of you if you do not “go along” with the plan, activity, or decision (even if you do not agree or are uncomfortable).
- Struggle to maintain healthy relationships, both in your personal and professional life.
- Repeatedly find yourself in situations in which you feel like the victim... “How did I get myself into this mess?” “Why do these things always happen to me?”
- Feel that important people in your life don’t “respect” you or “take advantage of you” often and secretly feel resentful toward them.
You may need to SET and/or REINFORCE boundaries both personally and professionally.
and improve relationships by creating clear expectations and responsibilities.
Let’s look at why boundaries are so important for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as 5 Simple Practices to keep and maintain them in our lives.
Just like the border of a property, state, or country marks where one territory ends and the other begins, the same is true for human boundaries. We must first know, and then indicate clearly where we begin/end, and where another ends and begins.
- Secondly, we must create the barrier or boundary that keeps each of us in our own territory.
- These boundaries can be physical, such as creating a personal space rule of 1-3 feet or deciding that you are not a hugger or that being touched in any way is only acceptable with an invitation from you.
- They can be mental, such as deciding that you will not engage in a particular behavior, for example, a political debate, gossip or argument when another person attempts to involve you.
- We can create emotional boundaries for situations where we know we have “triggers” or “buttons” that others push. This type of boundary is especially important with loved ones and family members as our emotional attachments often cloud our reasoning and judgement.
- Professional boundaries can be an extension of our personal boundaries. These are simply practiced in the workplace to create clear roles and expectations of all parties involved and to avoid any miscommunication and/or breakdown of processes.
- Finally, we can create spiritual boundaries in which we fiercely guard our personal or quiet time. This can be time spent on a spiritual practice such as religious services, meditation, yoga, walking or exercising in nature, spending ME time engaged in something we love, or just being alone.
Boundaries are important for so many reasons in our lives. They help define roles, expectations, and balance within relationships, but also help us define who and what we are, what we stand for, and prevent us from losing sight of this personal identity and self-worth.
Without clear boundaries in our personal and professional lives, many of us can easily become people pleasers, martyrs, and victims, none of which are healthy or helpful for anyone involved as we engage in patterns of thinking and behavior that diminish our sense of self. If you know that you struggle with setting boundaries in your life, I encourage you to explore why? Is it because you are afraid of “upsetting” someone; is it easier to just conform; or are you trying to be something or someone others want? Why? Where does this come from? Why do you choose to make another person’s demands/expectations more important than your own needs and wants?
For many of us, this behavior stems from childhood from a personal experience, possibly a trauma or negative experience or memory. Sometimes, it is simply a learned behavior we picked up from family members or caregivers. Maybe we just don’t know another way to be or respond in a healthy manner to break these patterns of thinking and behavior, yet we want something different for ourselves.
Boundaries are not always set in stone, nor are they negative in nature. In fact, just the opposite is true. Boundaries are in place to help us evolve and grow as individuals. Toddlers and school age children need boundaries to keep them safe while allowing them to grow and experience new things. That being said, we may need to change and/or adjust boundaries as we move through different stages of life. As our needs and wants change, so does our need for boundaries.
Here are five simple practices I like to teach that will help you set and maintain healthy boundaries in your personal and professional life.
Be clear about who you are, what you believe and what your needs are.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to get very clear about roles and responsibilities. What is your role as a friend, parent, partner, coworker, or caregiver? Is this clearly defined and understood by all parties involved? What are your beliefs regarding these relationships? Is there mutual respect and clear communication? What do you need to be you in any of these roles? Do you need at least eight hours of sleep each night? Do you need 20 minutes of quiet time once a day? Are you highly organized and like to make lists, or do you like to fly by the seat of your pants?
Do you know what your needs are? I guarantee if you do not know what your needs are...they are most likely not being met. Also, how can we communicate what we need if we are not sure ourselves? This lack of clarity is the root of so many breakdowns in communication because the lines around expectations and responsibilities are blurred – or non-existent.
It is OUR responsibility to ask for what we need in any personal or professional relationship.
When experiencing a difficult person or situation, imagine you are a mirror and the behavior/energy they exhibit bounces off you and right back to them. It is important to remember that this is their behavior, their words, and feelings...not yours. We have control of only our RESPONSE to such things, and with practice and a plan, we can avoid reacting with emotion because we can pause and be objective.
The heart is an electrical organ and produces the strongest source of rhythmic bioelectricity which goes to EVERY cell in the body! This creates an electromagnetic field which extends approximately three feet outside of our body (360 degrees). The whole “personal space rule'' makes A LOT more sense now, doesn’t it? The heart and the brain are in constant communication, and the HEART is doing most of the talking...therefore, we can take charge of how we feel more than we think!
When you feel yourself becoming anxious, tense or stressed and becoming “reactive” to a person or situation, focus on the area of your heart and imagine your breath moving in and out of this entire area of your left upper chest. As you focus on this area, your heart and brain automatically communicate those subconscious thoughts and feelings we associate with the heart: kindness, love, compassion, empathy, patience, forgiveness. Our nervous system becomes in sync with the heart, and suddenly we are no longer in fight or flight mode. We are able to focus and clearly assess the situation from a different perspective, thus keeping our boundaries intact.
Quick Coherence Technique
Using the above Heart-Focused Breathing when faced with a difficult situation or person, we can again focus on moving our breath in and out of the heart area while simultaneously recalling a pleasant memory or experience that was joyful for us. For me, I like to recall holding my infant daughter in my arms and feeling the warmth of her tiny body so close to mine. As we recall these memories or experiences, once again, our mind and heart become in sync and before we know it, we are actually experiencing the effects of that memory...love, kindness, happiness, joy. As a result, our blood pressure drops, muscle tension drops, our breath becomes more relaxed and deeper. All of this brings us to a state of clarity and peace, and we are in a much better place to maintain our boundaries.
STOP, Drop and Breathe
When you catch yourself reacting negatively, STOP and ask yourself what am I reacting to? Is this something I even have control of? If not, great, move on to something you do have control of! If you do have control, what action can you take to rectify the situation? Are you willing to take this action? If not, that is OKAY...just know that this is your choice and move on.
DROP your shoulders and check with your physical body. Notice where you are holding tension...are your fists clenched tightly? Are you breathing? How is this situation or person affecting your physical body?
BREATHE in slowly until your abdomen and chest are completely full and pretend there is a stopper in your belly button. As you pull out the stopper, exhale slowly with your mouth open slightly and even allow yourself to make a nice “ahhh” sound. When we take in full, deep breaths, our body cannot be in fight or flight mode. Once again, when we control our emotions, we can control our response, allowing us to not only create boundaries for ourselves but maintain these boundaries during times of increased stress.
Many of us have struggled on and off throughout life with the concept of boundaries in one way or another. The struggle is neither good nor bad; rather, it is the reality that we have created for ourselves. Sometimes we need help navigating our way out of old patterns of thinking and behavior. This is where a mentor, coach or counselor can be invaluable as they provide a different perspective and fresh new ideas. Be patient with yourself as change takes time and energy...start with creating one small boundary at a time. With new awareness, you can begin to build up to more challenging boundaries as you explore your personal beliefs, needs, and wants.
Creating (and maintaining) boundaries is not a difficult or unpleasant task; it just requires a bit of honest reflection about who you are, what you want in life for yourself and your wellbeing. We MUST know what our needs are; without this knowledge, it is difficult to create and maintain boundaries. We must also be clear about communicating our needs and wants.
Above all, remember that we are the ones who create the boundary; therefore, we are also the only one responsible for maintaining the boundary.
~ Debbie Ford~
https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/healthy-boundaries.htm - Healthy Boundaries - 12 Signs You Lack Them (and Why You Need Them).