Everyone talks about them. Yet no one really can explain them. What are they? Who should have them? And how do they fit into healthy relationships, maybe even divorce?
Wikipedia defines personal boundaries very clearly:
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They are built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.
By their very nature, boundaries require two or more people to exist. When you think about it, it is impossible to have boundaries in a world of one. “Reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her…” For example, if you are uncomfortable with others swearing in your presence, you can speak up to make your boundary of no swearing known to the people in your proximity.
Remaining silent is giving tacit consent to those around you to continue their behavior without regard to your boundary of no swearing. Without a voice, boundaries are meaningless.
Many people mistakenly believe that standing up for themselves, ie. setting boundaries, results in conflict. Not surprisingly, it appears that passive, conflict-avoiding people have the hardest times with boundaries and often complain, after the fact, that their boundaries were violated. And when these violations finally come to the surface, the others in a relationship with the silent spouse are often surprised and confused by the accusations of their passive partners.
Why is it important to set AND express boundaries? Who are the people who succeed at setting boundaries?
The nice people at Johnson State College in Vermont put together a wonderful resource for developing healthy boundaries. I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so please check out their webpage. I hope every student at JSC takes advantage of the information and learns this valuable life skill. I’ve pulled two of the sections out of their information for this blog post:
Why it’s important to establish boundaries?
- Good, Decent People Set Boundaries.
Establishing boundaries makes you a safe person. People know where they stand with you. Boundaries are the way we take care of ourselves. We have both a right and a duty to protect and defend ourselves.
- Generous People Set Boundaries.
If you don’t set boundaries you are giving yourself away. With boundaries you only give what you want which means you can afford to be generous to more people over a longer period of time.
- Boundaries Allow Others to Grow.
Because it makes others conscious of their behavior thus allowing them to change.
- Boundaries Allow You To Get More of What You Want, and Less of What You Don’t.
Boundaries not only protect you from unwanted behavior, they also foster the behavior that you do want.
- Effective People Set Boundaries.
Because doing so keeps you in control of your time and efforts which makes you feel better about yourself. This leads to your being more effective.
- Stick to Your Guns.
In order for boundary setting to work for you, you must develop a commitment to uphold what is right and true for you. You must act consistently in upholding your boundaries.
- Practice Makes Perfect.
If this is not familiar behavior it will feel awkward and unnatural at first, but anything worth doing is worth doing badly at first. People may not like it at first that’s natural they are used to getting their own way with you. Keep it up. With practice you will get more skillful and graceful.
How can you establish healthy boundaries? In order to establish good boundaries between yourself and others, you need to:
- Identify the symptoms of your boundaries currently being or having been violated or ignored.
- Identify the irrational or unhealthy thinking and beliefs by which you allow your boundaries to be ignored or violated.
- Identify new, more rational, healthy thinking and beliefs which will encourage you to change your behaviors so that you build healthy boundaries between you and others.
- Identify new behaviors you need to add to your healthy boundary building behaviors repertoire in order to sustain healthy boundaries between you and others.
- Implement the healthy boundary building beliefs and behaviors in your life so that your space, privacy and rights are no longer ignored or violated.
As you make these changes, remember to be direct and gracious. Allow the others who are in a relationship with you to adjust to the changes you’re making in yourself. And ask them about their boundaries. You may have been stepping on their toes as well.