Establishing boundaries for ourselves is a necessary part of life. All creatures set boundaries. Just try and take that bone away from your dog. He is not going to like it and will move away, growl, or possibly even snap at you to communicate that.
Granted, as human beings, growling or snapping at someone to establish possession or personal dominance is not usually acceptable without our lives being in danger. The most casual boundary we set instinctually is called our personal space. That refers to the distance between ourselves and another person or group of people. The more trust and emotional closeness we share with someone, the closer we allow them physically.
In scenarios where we don’t have a lot of control over how close others get to us, such as on a crowded bus, we do other things. We may position our stuff on the outside of our body to create a barrier. We may protect our boundaries by placing items on our laps, crossing our legs, pulling our arms towards our chest, or slanting our body away from the closest individual. Others may sprawl out with legs wide and elbows out to enforce the idea that they are dominant over their bodies and the area around them.
Emotional and Mental Boundaries
Personal space is just a part of creating a boundary for ourselves. There are emotional and mental boundaries we create to establish a safe circle around ourselves. Not only does it establish an area of safety, but it also indicates our position of self-respect, the type of relationship we have with that person and where we draw the line of being manipulated or taken advantage of. We have professional boundaries, parental boundaries, and the personal boundaries we establish with those close to us.
Not everyone has learned how to create boundaries or how to communicate them and enforce them well, particularly those who have been abused or neglected as a child or those who just weren’t taught how to establish healthy boundaries. Those individuals have resorted to instinctual safety mechanisms that, sadly, fail them as adults. They may not even be aware of this.
There are 7 signs that you need to set personal boundaries. Once you recognize if you display these traits, it is possible, with some honest work, to learn how to create these boundaries in a healthy and safe way.
What is a healthy boundary?
In the field of psychology, a boundary is emotional distance or a mindset that restricts those around us to prevent harm to ourselves. Its foundation is self-love, and its design is to preserve that self-love and to establish to others you won’t allow anything less than actions toward yourself that reflect your value and respect as an individual.
We have seen examples of this so often that we usually follow the unwritten rules without a lot of thought. For example, our parents may have reinforced that as children, we were to knock on the bedroom door before entering. They may have returned the sign of respect for privacy as you became older. We understand that our employers are not individuals who we expect to know a lot about due to a professional barrier. Another example may be a friend who informs you that they do not appreciate profanity or crude jokes. Out of respect, we modify our behavior.
These boundaries act to reinforce the behavior we accept due to values, sense of position, and self-respect. An individual may choose to have more relaxed barriers or fairly strict ones. For instance, some employers may openly share pieces of their personal life, which may then open the door to employees to be supportive or sympathetic toward them when certain situations arise that create distress. Other employers would think that it is entirely out of line or that it leaves a door open for manipulation.
The level of the boundary you place depends upon how secure you are in being able to handle when the lines become blurred or what mindset you have. Some people value privacy very highly, and others value personal connection more. It is up to them to tell you.
Benefits of a Healthy Boundary
Other than for safety reasons, what are the benefits of establishing a healthy boundary?
- Improved sense of self and confidence: When you establish healthy boundaries, you create a pattern of being treated with respect and others confirm your value, which reinforces your sense of worth.
- We are better able to communicate: When we know our boundaries and set them consistently with others, then we are more at ease expressing what we need and what we don’t want. This rules out others assuming or guessing.
- We have more secure and lasting relationships: Anyone we allow close to us has usually met our expectations and therefore will treat us with respect and value. We have self-love, and therefore expect others to treat us in a similar way. Likewise, we will also treat them as valuable and loved.
- Life is more stable, and we feel more in control: By limiting the drama in our lives created by those who don’t respect our values, life is calmer and relationships are more enjoyable. We feel empowered and safe to be ourselves.
- Able to view things more clearly: Being around people who don’t treat us well clouds our ability to see circumstances clearly. We become more negative and doubt ourselves and our control. Conversely, when we are treated well, we encounter less stress and negativity, and we are not clouded by emotions based on insecurity or lack of safety. We know who we are, and we act accordingly.
7 Signs That you Need to Set Personal Boundaries
Most often, children raised in abusive or neglectful situations do not feel safe setting boundaries. Their emotional, mental, or physical boundaries were not respected as children, so they often feel powerless as adults. A child not allowed to say “No,” not shown respect for their own bodies, or not given affection except under certain conditions, does not feel that they have value. They lack self-love in many cases. This shows itself by their inability to create healthy boundaries or to communicate those boundaries, out of fear.
There are sure signs that demonstrate your need to set personal boundaries:
- Going out of your way to please others: You lack self-confidence and seek approval through doing things for others, no matter the cost to yourself.
- Giving, or taking, as much as you can for its own sake: Doing or giving things you really can’t afford in order to feel good about yourself. On the opposite side, you may rebelliously take from others what you want.
- Feeling like you failed someone or feeling guilty if you say “No”: You are afraid that you have let someone down or will be rejected if you don’t do what you are asked.
- Not speaking up when you are treated poorly. You don’t believe you have value or control, so you allow others to mistreat you. You could also believe no one will help.
- Accepting sexual advances or touches that you don’t want: Any attention shows a semblance of value, even if you don’t want to be touched. Plus, you don’t believe you have any control or power.
- Modifying your sense of self to fit those around you: You believe that your person isn’t valuable, so you attempt to be like others that you view as more valued.
- Feeling a strong sense of attachment or “love” to anyone who treats you better: You tend to cling to others who do show you attention or affection. The value they are showing you is replacing the worth you don’t feel for yourself. You don’t want to let that go.
How to set boundaries for yourself
If you recognize any of these signs above or have evidence that you may not be communicating your boundaries, you can learn how. You do not need to continue to set yourself up to be hurt or feel powerless. You are not a victim. Therefore, you can take some action to change things in your life. You can learn to create healthy boundaries as opposed to brittle walls of fear.
You have the right and power.
The first step is to recognize that you have the right to set personal boundaries. Everyone does. Taking this step is taking responsibility for your life. This step may require you to go to therapy for a brief time. Or, you may choose to work with a trusted friend who can help you work out issues.
You need to develop your sense of self-worth so that you are no longer trying to gain it from others around you. Additionally, you need to recognize that you are not as you were as a child. You are an adult now and have control. Recognize that you have value and are worthy of love and respect.