Boundaries … it is a word that we hear a lot, but I am not sure if people understand what they are and why they are needed. When boundaries aren’t created within relationships, it can often lead to conflict and feelings of disrespect that impact our mental well-being.
Not only that, when we don’t understand how we may be crossing the boundaries of other people, it can lead to the end of a relationship that may be important to you.
In this blog post, we will explore why it is essential to establish boundaries for the sake of our mental health and well-being.
So, what exactly are boundaries?
Boundaries can be defined as the guidelines, limits, and rules we establish to protect our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Boundaries serve as a means of self-care and self-protection, allowing us to maintain a healthy balance between our own needs and the demands of others.
It's important to understand what boundaries are not, as misconceptions can sometimes lead to confusion. Here are a few things that are not considered boundaries:
1. Control: Boundaries are not about controlling others or their actions. They are about setting limits for us and establishing what we are comfortable with. Therefore, a boundary is not to dictate what other people can do, but rather what our own limitations are.
2. Manipulation: Boundaries should not be used as a manipulative tactic to get what we want or to make others feel guilty. They should be respectful and considerate of others' boundaries as well. So, to enforce a “rule” to get something out of someone else, is not a boundary.
3. Walls: Boundaries are not walls meant to isolate us from others. Instead, they are healthy filters that allow positive and respectful interactions while protecting us from harmful or toxic influences. Therefore, if we need to take space from unhealthy interactions, that is ok. However, it is not a means to simply shut people out.
4. Selfishness: Setting boundaries is not selfish. It is an essential aspect of self-care and self-preservation. It is about taking care of ourselves so that we can show up more fully and authentically in our relationships. We need to prioritize ourselves to be the best we can be in our relationships. That isn’t selfish, that’s being healthy.
5. Permanent and rigid: Boundaries can be flexible and adjusted based on different circumstances and relationships. They can evolve over time as we learn more about ourselves and our needs. It is important to understand how your boundaries need to change and to also communicate those changes so that others are on the same page.
Boundaries are a dynamic and personal aspect of our lives. They help us define our limits, protect our well-being, and create healthier connections with others. By understanding what boundaries are and what they are not, we can establish and maintain boundaries that promote our mental health and overall well-being.
So how can boundaries help us with our mental health? Well, here are some ways:
1. Preserving Emotional Energy: One of the primary benefits of setting boundaries is the preservation of our emotional energy. By clearly defining what is acceptable and unacceptable in our interactions, we reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed, drained, or emotionally exhausted. Setting limits on our time, resources, and emotional availability allows us to invest our energy wisely and direct it towards activities and relationships that genuinely matter to us.
2. Fostering Self-Respect: Establishing boundaries is an act of self-respect. When we set clear limits on what we are willing and unwilling to tolerate, we demonstrate to ourselves and others that our well-being is a priority. Boundaries are an assertion of our personal rights and values, indicating that we deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and consideration. By enforcing our boundaries, we cultivate a sense of self-worth and reinforce healthy self-esteem.
3. Promoting Healthy Relationships: Boundaries play a vital role in fostering healthy relationships. By clearly communicating our needs, expectations, and limits, we enable others to understand and respect our boundaries. Healthy boundaries create a safe space for open and honest communication, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentments. Moreover, when we establish boundaries, we encourage others to set their own boundaries, leading to more balanced and mutually respectful relationships.
4. Reducing Stress and Anxiety: Without boundaries, we may find ourselves overcommitting, taking on excessive responsibilities, and neglecting our own well-being. This can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout. By establishing clear boundaries, we create a framework that prevents us from spreading ourselves too thin and prioritizes our mental health. Boundaries allow us to allocate time for self-care, relaxation, and activities that bring us joy, reducing stress levels and promoting overall emotional well-being.
5. Enhancing Self-Awareness: Creating and maintaining boundaries requires a deep understanding of ourselves and our needs. It prompts us to reflect on our values, priorities, and emotional limits. This process of self-reflection and self-awareness helps us identify what truly matters to us, enabling us to make conscious choices that align with our authentic selves. By understanding our boundaries, we gain clarity about our own desires and aspirations, paving the way for personal growth and fulfillment.
One of the biggest misconceptions, in my opinion, is that setting boundaries are hard. I think that is the easiest step. The HARDEST step is to enforce the boundary. Not everyone is going to be ok with boundaries, in fact, they might fully disregard your boundary entirely. However, it is up to you to continually enforce the boundary to get the message across.
I equate boundary setting to toddlers in the process of a tantrum. May sound a bit overly dramatic but let me explain. Toddlers want what they want. They have yet to really understand fully boundaries and limitations. This is the phase where they learn, which is why parents tend to get frustrated the most during child rearing.
It is up to the parents to continually set the rules and expectations. A toddler may throw a tantrum but over time they start to learn what is expected. If a parent is to give in to a tantrum, the toddler begins learning that to get what they want, they must throw a tantrum until their parents get exhausted and eventually gives in. It isn’t teaching them boundaries; it teaches them how to ultimately get what they want.
This sounds shady towards toddlers, but this is how they learn boundaries. It is exhausting but a necessary step in child development. Now, as an adult trying to set boundaries you may find that some other adults may have skipped that lesson when they were kids. So, you are dealing with adult sized tantrums (not all the time, but I want to prepare you) that require you to keep enforcing a boundary that is healthy for you.
If you find that your boundary isn’t being respected (hopefully it is a healthy boundary) then it may be time to re-evaluate that particular relationship.
Establishing boundaries is not an act of selfishness but a vital step towards safeguarding our mental health and overall well-being. By setting clear limits on our time, emotions, and relationships, we create a space for self-care, healthy relationships, and personal growth.
Boundaries allow us to preserve our emotional energy, foster self-respect, reduce stress, and enhance self-awareness. Embracing boundaries is a powerful act of self-love and an investment in our long-term mental and emotional health. So, let us prioritize ourselves and establish boundaries that enable us to live fulfilling and balanced lives.
Written by: Jessica Jefferson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Perinatal Mental Health Counselor and Owner of Cloud Nine Therapeutic Services. My passion is helping individuals through heartbreak, whether that is heartbreak with others or heartbreak within themselves. My goal is to be their guide on their journey to their self-discovery so that they can build the life and relationship they want. I am here for when you want to start your journey.