Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, as we saw in part 1 of this blog on boundaries, the goal is to have healthy boundaries – not too rigid (the fortress) and not too loose (the chicken wire). It is also important to note that it is our responsibility to develop healthy boundaries. We cannot put that responsibility on any other person. Boundaries show us what we are responsible for, and they help us define what we are NOT responsible for – like other people. We are responsible TO others and FOR ourselves.
Different areas of boundaries
Physical boundaries: This includes your personal space or “bubble” and determines who you want to touch and who you allow to touch you, it includes hugs, handshakes and general physical closeness.
Psychological (mental) boundaries: These include our thoughts, opinions, values and beliefs.
Emotional boundaries: This distinguishes the separation of your emotions (and responsibility for them) from someone else’s. It’s like an imaginary line or force field that separates you and others. Healthy emotional boundaries protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. This is usually a big issue for people who are co-dependent or emotionally dependent on others.
Sexual boundaries: This is your comfort level with sexual activity: what, where, when and with whom
Spiritual boundaries: Boundaries that define your soul and help you to guard it and maintain it.
Common myths regarding boundaries:
“Boundaries are selfish”
I hear this a lot, however, quite the opposite is true – appropriate boundaries allow us to better care about others. In fact, people with highly developed limits are the most caring people in the world. Why? Because they experience that their own needs are taken care of, so they have plenty of energy to care about others (remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup).
“Boundaries mean that I am angry”
When people begin setting boundaries, telling the truth, and taking responsibility for the first time, they can appear to seem angry. As they become more sensitive to situations where boundaries are not respected they discover that they might be touchy and easily offended, and that confuses and frightens them. Do boundaries cause anger in us? Absolutely not. If we see it that way, we misunderstand our emotions, and anger specifically. Boundaries don’t cause anger in us. Our anger tells us that our boundaries have been violated. Or our anger is a result of our reluctance to set boundaries and wishing that we had.
“If I set boundaries they will hurt others”
Occasionally setting boundaries will result in disappointing other people whom we value and like to see happy. For example, a friend may want to borrow or use an item when we need it ourselves; or people in church may call us for support when we are in bad shape emotionally and cannot help; and yet others may want to borrow money when we are in our own personal financial straits. When we talk about boundaries in counseling, a lot of people ask, “Shouldn’t we help people?” Of course, but having boundaries prevents our treasures from being taken at the wrong time and for the wrong purpose. Saying no to others may cause them some discomfort, because they have to look elsewhere. But it does not cause injury.
“Boundaries cause guilt”
One of the major obstacles to setting boundaries with others in our lives is our feeling of obligation. Don’t we owe our parents and anyone else who has been loving toward us? Then how can we ever say no to them when they are in need? Saying no to someone who has been kind to us is difficult, because it stirs up feelings of guilt. We feel that, because we have received something we now owe something. Nothing could be more wrong. If we receive something as a gift – love, money, efforts, or time – we should accept it for what it is: a gift with no obligations. All that is really needed is gratitude for something that was provided out of love. Of course, there are always people who do not give selflessly but only for the purpose of getting something from us. You can always tell the difference by how they react to your sincere thanks. If the giver is hurt or angered, then the gift was not intended to be a gift, but a loan. If gratitude is enough, you probably received a gift with no strings attached.
“Boundaries will separate me from others and will make me lose friends or family”
Healthy boundaries do not prevent closeness but in fact enhance it! People who have mutual respect for each other’s boundaries have very healthy and close relationships because they feel safe. Immature people may temporarily become distant when we set boundaries. We may even lose some so-called friends who cannot accept our boundaries. But these friendships wouldn’t have been healthy anyway.
“Boundaries are permanent”
Our boundaries are completely under our control. We can, and will have to, adjust our boundaries once we know that our property line will be respected.
As we develop healthy boundaries, we develop an appropriate sense of roles among family members, others, and ourselves. We are then able to respect others and ourselves. We don’t allow others to trespass in our territory and we also stop trying to control others. We take responsibility for ourselves and begin to know our rights. We begin to feel that we deserve to be treated well and respected by people. We learn to say, “No” and set limits with others when others try to exploit us.
A distinctly Christian perspective on boundaries:
Sometimes when I counsel fellow Christians, they express the fear that they will be considered self-centered, selfish or interested only in their own concerns and not those of others if they set boundaries. When I ask them if they think Jesus had boundaries, many say no. However, Jesus did have boundaries, and if we, as Christians, are to follow that example, then having healthy boundaries is the correct and loving thing to do.
Jesus, in his Incarnation, had Limits that he accepted, the following are but a few (list adapted from Soul Shepherding):
Jesus Said “No” to Inappropriate Behavior
Jesus Spoke the Truth in Love to those Stuck or Wrong
Jesus Had Expectations for People in Need
Examples of other Boundaries Jesus set
Healthy boundaries contribute to our personal growth, sense of self, character and spiritual formation. As we take risks and learn about our true identities, our boundaries will emerge and draw us into closer relationships. It is good to have balance in life to be able to develop a healthy sense of self. It’s okay to give to people, but do not allow others to take your treasures and trespass on your territory. Healthy boundaries make us strong and empower us when others try to manipulate us. In addition, they also empower us to determine how we will be treated by others. Healthy boundaries also facilitate self-discipline, maturity, and strength of character. They bring order into our lives. Above all, healthy boundaries help us have greater intimacy in our relationships with others.
How to get help creating healthy boundaries:
Research shows that abuse, humiliation, or shame cause a great deal of damage to boundaries and they also create feelings of powerlessness and/or helplessness. Also, inappropriate generational roles among family members, and inappropriate roles between our family and other families, can also damage boundary formation. People who have been in the role of care takers, begin to believe other people’s thoughts, feelings, and problems are their responsibility. If you’ve experienced abuse, trauma, relationship problems, or feel like people “walk all over you” you might have trouble setting healthy boundaries.
Our compassionate, caring counselors at Lighthouse Counseling LTD can help you deal with past issues that have damaged your boundaries and help you learn how to set healthy, appropriate boundaries. Please give us a call today to set up an appointment.