What is a boundary?
Healthy boundaries define a line or limit to what we are responsible for and how we will allow others to treat us.
Having healthy boundaries involves being able to say ‘no’ respectfully when necessary, and accepting ‘no’ from other people.
Healthy boundaries are reciprocally implemented when respecting your own, and another persons’ physical, mental, emotional, psychological and material needs.
Types of boundaries
Physical boundaries enable us to negotiate physical contact and proximity to another person.
It is a skill in being able to clearly set appropriate physical boundaries that determine who may touch us and under what circumstance. When we have healthy physical boundaries, we are aware of and respect the physical boundaries of other people.
Mental boundaries give us freedom to have our thoughts and opinions. This comes from having a good understanding of our values and beliefs. This includes having knowledge of what our likes and dislikes are.
Emotional boundaries help us take care of our own emotions, and detach from harmful or manipulative emotions from others. We develop this skill when we can know and own our emotions respectfully. This means respecting that you may have thoughts, feelings and moods that are independent from how other people experience the same circumstance.
When you understand and know yourself it becomes easier for you not to take on the burden of other people’s emotions. This is a vital skill to develop in order to maintain your mental health and well-being.
Material boundaries consist in having the ability to set limits on your time, the services you provide and on the personal belongings that you own.
Setting boundaries is an important element of establishing one’s identity and maintaining one’s self-esteem and intuition.
Levels of boundaries
There are different levels of boundaries from loose to rigid, and with healthy boundaries falling somewhere in between these extremes.
Functional healthy boundaries are flexible and they range from being open and receptive to closed and protective. This means we need to be able to access all the variations between saying with integrity a full ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to particular instances.
Healthy boundaries consist of being fluid and flexible, but equally protective particularly when we are not being respected. Healthy boundaries enable us to feel connected or united with others but also to safely maintain our differences.
Object relations therapists work effectively in helping a person become an individual called ‘individuation’. This process is regarded as an important contributing factor in developing a healthy relationship.
As such when we maintain healthy boundaries, we are promoting vitality and variety in our relationships as we know and enjoy who we are.
The function of boundaries
When we maintain our healthy boundaries, our boundaries function to contain and protect ourselves and others. Healthy protection is having the ability to adapt to the present moment.
Boundaries enable us to know what input from others is appropriate to let in and assimilate, and what input we need to protect ourselves from and screen out. This includes being able to tolerate our emotional and cognitive states.
Boundaries also enable us to remain sensitive to others and respect their rights and boundaries.
How we develop healthy boundaries
We form good boundaries when we live from our inner life and know and understand our feelings and bodies. Body mind therapy is valuable in building an awareness of what is ‘you’ and what is ‘not you’ to develop yourself concept and to meet your needs.
We learn where we need to implement a boundary when we observe and notice what upsets or offends us. We build our boundaries from a range of variables, including our beliefs, opinions, attitudes, social learnings and experiences.
Having boundaries helps us realise that another person is separate, and often has distinct emotions and outlooks on life that are unique to them. Thus we are aware that people make choices about how they feel and that we are not responsible for their choices.
Equally it is important to be aware that as adults we are in control of our feelings and that our feelings are a choice we make from moment to moment
Body mind therapy is a valuable resource in assisting a person to develop a healthy relationship. It is in therapy where we can heal our core family of origin issues.
As our core issues are resolved we learn about boundaries which develop from our understanding of our ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. We also learn about respecting other people’s preferences or wishes. In addition, as we heal our core issues we are also much less likely to project our hurts onto people close to us.
Another indicator of having healthy boundaries is where the giving and receiving between people is mutual and conscious.
Success in being your real self
Healthy boundaries maximises our ability to be both autonomous and enjoy the joys of relating well in relationships.
Having healthy boundaries makes it safe for us to feel what it is like to be aware of our inner life, and to connect with and relate to others honestly.
When we are real our potential and growth as individuals and in relationships can flourish.
- Boundaries and relationships: knowing, protecting and enjoying the self. Author, Charles L. Whitfield. 1993
- Boundaries : Where You End and I Begin. Author, Anne Katherine. 1991