One of the things I never thought about until I started my own mental health journey several years ago was healthy boundaries. Growing up in a chaotic household as I did, it is not going to be the place where we learn about healthy boundaries. If our parents were never taught about them, how on earth can we know about them? The answer is we can’t, so we have to learn them as adults. So, what exactly are boundaries?
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. They are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.
Think of your boundaries as fences, they were where you stop and another person begins. We can have a mix of rigid, porous or healthy boundaries with those around us. Our boundaries are going to change depending on the people we are around. I give this example to my clients. My boundaries are going to be different with my clients, vs my co-workers, vs my bosses, vs my friends, vs my family, vs my boyfriend. You can be a combination of rigid, porous and healthy depending on the person who you are working with. For instance, if you have a toxic family member, you can have rigid boundaries with them. This means you are keeping them at arm’s length, you don’t share personal information with them. This can be used as a way to protect ourselves from harm.
How do you know if you lack personal boundaries? Here are ten things that can help you recognize that you might need to work on your personal boundaries.
- You fail to speak up when you are mistreated.
- You give away too much of your time. (If you have trouble saying no.)
- You actually agree with something even when you don’t, just to keep the peace.
- You feel guilty dedicating time to yourself.
- You feel taken for granted by others.
- You have toxic relationships.
- You have chronic fear about what others think about you.
- You over-share details about your life with others.
- You constantly feel like the victim.
- You attract people who try to control or dominate you.
If you relate to anything on this list, you are most likely struggling with personal boundaries. First step is to learn what type of boundaries do you have. Are they rigid? Or Porous? Let’s first compare the differences between rigid and porous boundaries and then we will discuss what healthy boundaries are compared to unhealthy ones.
Rigid boundaries are defined as a person who always keeps others at a distance (whether emotionally, physically, or otherwise) is said to have rigid boundaries. If you tend to avoid intimacy and close relationships. Are unlikely to ask for help. You have few close relationships. Are very protective of personal information. If you are detached even to romantic partners. You keep others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejection.
Porous boundaries are defined as over-sharing personal information. Having difficulty saying no to the requests of others. Getting overinvolved with other’s problems. Tolerating abuse or disrespect. Some characteristics of porous boundaries are oversharing personal information (If you have childhood trauma, this can by a symptom of it. We tend to overshare to make sure that people understand so we don’t get into trouble). You have difficulty saying “no” to the requests of others (Remember no is a complete sentence. Even if you say no, and then give a five-minute explanation of why you can’t it is also a sign of porous boundaries. You are then trying to cover your own guilt at saying no). You get overinvolved with other’s problems (I see this a lot in residential settings for therapy, it’s much easier to hold the mirror up to someone else and say “hey you need help” or to fix them, than it is to turn the mirror around and help ourselves. For many people this stems from not feeling worthy enough to need help.) Dependent on the opinions of others (this is when you need validation from others and not your own validation). Accepting of abuse or disrespect (I have had clients get so mad at me when we talk about this. They feel as if I’m victim blaming. That is not the case, this is when you feel as if you deserve the abuse or disrespect because you feel as if you don’t deserve to be treated better. There is a difference). You also fear rejection if you do not comply with others.
Now let’s look at the definition of healthy boundaries once again: Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. They are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning. Some characteristics of healthy boundaries are valuing your own opinions. You don’t compromise values for others. You share your personal information in an appropriate way (does not over or under share). You know personal wants and needs, and can communicate them. You are accepting when others say “no” to them, and you can also say no to others without guilt.
If you are struggling with rigid or porous boundaries one of the first exercises, I give to my clients is to write down what their core values are. Core values are a set of fundamental beliefs, ideals or practices that inform how you conduct your life, both personally and professionally. If you do not know what your core values are then how are you going to know how to interact with others and set healthy boundaries? I recommend to my clients to google a list of core values, and then write down their top twenty and why. This will give you an idea of what areas you need to work on in order to set healthier boundaries for yourself.
If you would like help in learning more about working on living up to your core values or on how to set healthy boundaries, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.