According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, a boundary is “a point or limit that indicates where two things become different”. It is where I stop and you begin. A boundary is a line or space between two people. Healthy boundaries are important to our physical and emotional health.
Boundaries provide protection. If boundaries are weak, we are vulnerable. And if boundaries are too rigid, we are closed off and disconnected. We need to find healthy boundaries.
In working with codependency, I routinely see people struggling to understand and set appropriate, healthy boundaries. Examples of unhealthy boundaries include:
- A woman letting her ex-husband to rifle through her mail when dropping off their kids.
- A man agreeing to lend his neighbor his bike even though he finds this neighbor untrustworthy.
- A woman feeling uncomfortable about how close a man is standing to her.
- A man avoiding confronting his wife about her excessive drinking.
What are healthy boundaries?
Now let’s look at what healthy boundaries look like:
- Saying no without guilt
- Saying yes because you want to — not out of guilt or obligation
- Asking for what you want or need
- Taking care of yourself
- Doing things out of interest/desire, not out of obligation or to please others
- Behaving according to your own values and beliefs
- Feeling safe to express difficult emotions and have disagreements
- Feeling supported to pursue your own goals
- Being treated as an equal
- Taking responsibility for your own happiness and not feeling responsible for someone else’s happiness
- Being in tune with your own feelings
- Knowing who you are, what you believe, and what you like
Unhealthy boundaries are often learned in childhood. And, fortunately, they can be unlearned. Once you understand what healthy boundaries are, you can begin to explore your barriers to healthy boundaries. Is fear getting in the way of setting healthy boundaries? Fear of people not liking you, fear of rejection, fear of being unloveable, fear of confrontation, fear of abandonment, fear of disappointing people. Fears make it uncomfortable to change. Like all skills, learning appropriate boundaries takes practice. But with practice, fears can be overcome and you will gain confidence as you experience feeling safe, worthy, and in control.
To learn more about setting healthy boundaries:
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©2015 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.