At one point or another you may have heard or even uttered the familiar saying “you’re invading my personal bubble.” However, beyond that concept you may find if difficult to understand boundaries, viewing them from a narrow lens. Yet, in every daily interaction we have with another person, boundaries are present. Although your basic understanding of boundaries may be in reference to your physical space and an imaginary line others should not cross, boundaries can also be mental, sexual, or emotional.
Boundaries are established when you define your responsibilities, set limits with others, stand strong in manipulating situations, and say “no” when you really mean no. They determine how you will treat both others and yourself and allow others to treat you. Because you teach others how to treat you through establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries, they are essential in cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships.
While a good boundary may be viewed as one that protects or emotionally distances you from others, that thought could not be more wrong. Healthy or good boundaries are those that allow you to remain an individual in a relationship, remaining true to your values and beliefs, while being open to new experiences, differing perspectives, values, or worldviews. Healthy boundaries have been described as having the ability to protect us without isolating us; they keep your individuality intact. You know where you end and others begin. Because boundaries are a part of your daily life, knowing how to set and maintain healthy boundaries can enhance your relationships.
Whether this is knowing what situations make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, slowing down a relationship that is moving too fast, or declining an invitation for a restful night in, knowing your limits helps you identify when your line is about to be crossed and empowers you to deliver a strong, confident no without feeling guilty. When determining your limits, pay attention to the signals your body sends you, are you feeling butterflies, is your heart beating faster, are you feeling short of breath? These signals are more than likely indicating that your line is about to, or has been, crossed.
Get comfortable with confrontation
Whether your line is on the verge of being crossed or has been crossed, you might neglect to communicate your boundaries out of a fear of confrontation and upsetting others. However, when asking for your needs to be met, confrontation does not need to be viewed in a negative context. Most of the time, people treat us how they expect to be treated, without realizing you may be uncomfortable with their behavior. Simply confronting someone by saying what is making you uncomfortable and asking him or her to stop allows you to build healthy boundaries.
Communicate your boundaries
When setting boundaries, communication is key. Although you confronted the other person and asked him or her to stop, you now need to communicate your boundary. You cannot expect other to know your limits, just as they cannot expect you to know theirs. Through communicating and asking for your needs to be met so your boundary is not crossed, you are actually teaching others how to treat appropriately treat you. However, if you are expecting other to treat you accordingly, you must first respect your own boundaries. Therefore, it is your job to maintain the boundaries you set. If you slide out of guilt, you are teaching others that you can be manipulated into changing the way you expect to be treated.
Maintain the boundary
You might have a moment where you give in to ease tension or because it is simply easier. However, respecting the boundaries you have set through gentle reminders, both to others and yourself, will enable you to retain the boundaries.
In the beginning, setting boundaries feels difficult. I recommend choosing one person to practice setting limits with, working your way up to more challenging individuals, such as a partner or parent. During this process, there might be a time or two when you don’t uphold your boundary. Try not to get discouraged, as this is a learning process. Be gentle on yourself and consider how you will handle the situation differently in the future.