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  • Writer's pictureNicole King

Healthy Boundaries 101: Healthy Limits and Better Connections

Updated: May 7

In recent years, there's been a growing recognition of the importance of setting boundaries. This awareness has been fuelled by a rise in stress, burnout, and conflicts in relationships, prompting a deeper understanding of the need for self-care to safeguard our wellbeing. Establishing clear and healthy boundaries is about looking after ourselves but it’s also about nurturing our relationships.

Unfortunately, many of us were never taught about boundaries or how to establish or assert them. This lack of guidance has often led people, particularly women, to allow boundaries to be crossed by not wanting to be seen as “difficult”. Prioritising others' needs over our own is what many of us do, particularly when taking care of the family. While this is important, it's equally important to check-in and recognise our own needs amidst life's demands.

 

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are like gentle guides we set for ourselves in relationships. They're the limits, rules, or lines that help protect our wellbeing and maintain healthy interactions. These boundaries play an important role in maintaining our emotional and psychological wellbeing, empowering us to communicate our needs effectively. By establishing boundaries, we ensure that we aren't taken advantage of or manipulated by others.

 

Everyone’s boundaries are unique to them. When we establish our boundaries, we're not only communicating our expectations for respectful behaviour but also acknowledging and respecting the boundaries of others. This reciprocity creates mutual understanding and respect in our interactions.

 

Types of Boundaries

There are various types of boundaries, ranging from physical, emotional, social, spiritual, sexual, material and verbal.

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries relate to our bodies and personal space, respecting our autonomy. These boundaries enable us to feel safe and respected in our interactions. You have the freedom to say no or decline physical contact and you respect other people’s physical autonomy.

Psychological Boundaries

Psychological boundaries are the limits we set around our thoughts, beliefs, and values. They define what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of how others treat us. Psychological boundaries help us maintain a sense of individuality and self-respect. You should have the freedom to have your own thoughts, values and opinions.

Emotional Boundaries

These involve our feelings, needs, and desires, and they help us maintain a healthy emotional balance in our relationships. Being able to express feelings openly and honestly while also respecting others' emotions. May include expectations of confidentiality, as well as respect for the validity of your feelings and your reactions to emotional experiences. Oversharing can also impinge on emotional boundaries.

Material Boundaries

When we set limits on what we will share – both in terms of money and possessions – and with whom.

 

Time Boundaries

Time boundaries is about how you manage your time, and the energy you give to other people, activities or other pursuits. It may include setting limits (and saying ‘no’ when necessary) to avoid being overcommitted or overworked.

Verbal / Conversational

How we allow others to talk to us; what you feel is appropriate to discuss; topics that you do and do not feel comfortable discussing.

Sexual Boundaries

Protecting your right to consent to sexual contact, and for honesty from sexual partners. Sexual boundaries also encompass unwanted comments, innuendo or ‘jokes’.

 

Each type serves as a framework for acceptable behaviour, helping us navigate our responsibilities and honour the autonomy of others.

 

In setting boundaries, we may find ourselves navigating between porous, rigid, and healthy boundaries. Porous boundaries occur when we lack clear separation between ourselves and others. It may leave us feeling overly responsible for others' emotions or actions. We may have difficulty saying no and may be prone to being mistreated by others or taken advantage of.


On the other hand, rigid boundaries are marked by excessive separation and inflexibility, and can lead to isolation and fear of intimacy. Our walls are up, we avoid close relationships, and have a fear of vulnerability.


Healthy boundaries strike a balance, allowing us to assert our needs while respecting the needs of others. People with healthy boundaries often have a strong sense of self-awareness and self-worth and can communicate their boundaries assertively.


Resistance to Setting Boundaries

The journey of setting boundaries can be challenging due to various factors, including fear of rejection or disapproval by others, a desire to please others, low self-esteem, feeling guilty about saying no and wanting to meet others’ expectations of us. There might be familial norms which shape our ability to set boundaries. Negative past experiences and consequences for asserting ourselves can also make it more difficult setting boundaries for ourselves.

 

It’s important to be aware that as we begin to establish boundaries, especially if they differ from what others are accustomed to, we might find certain individuals reacting negatively to this. They might interpret your boundaries as a form of rejection or criticism or see them as a personal attack. Moreover, it can disrupt existing power dynamics within relationships. Individuals used to exerting control over you may resist your attempts to assert autonomy and equality. Alternatively, they may struggle with setting their own boundaries, feeling challenged by your example. Some may even try to test your limits, perhaps out of curiosity or a desire to understand your commitment to enforcing boundaries.


How to Set Boundaries and Communicate Your Needs

As mentioned, all relationships need and require boundaries to show and demonstrate key relationship qualities such as respect, trust and equality.

  • Know Your Boundaries: Reminding yourself that it's okay to have your own needs and commitments. Take some time to reflect on your own needs and determine the boundaries you would like to strengthen, looking at your values, identity and feelings. 

  • Using “I” Statements: This is when you use "I" statements rather than “you” statements to express your needs without blaming or accusing the other person. Many of us frequently use statements that imply that the other person is to blame without first articulating why we feel hurt / frustrated / stressed. When we use “I” statements, it avoids the other person feeling blamed and becoming defensive – it can have a big impact on how much the other person is able and willing to hear what you are saying. - "I feel frustrated when I don't feel heard or acknowledged during our conversations."(Instead of “You don’t care about me or my feelings – you only care about yourself”) - "I feel overwhelmed when I don't get help around the house or a chance to take care of my own needs." (Instead of saying: "You're so selfish!")

-  "I'm feeling stressed due to the volume of projects I'm currently handling."

-    "I'm concerned that my productivity and quality of work will suffer if I take on anymore at this stage."


  • Offer alternatives (if possible): If you're declining a request but still want to be helpful, offer alternatives if possible. This shows that you're not disregarding the other person's needs entirely.

  • Validating other person’s concerns: Depending on the setting and situation, you may want to consider starting the conversation by acknowledging the other person's concerns as this can create a more understanding and supportive environment.

 

  • Keep emotions in check: Depending on the situation, you may want to ensure that you feel calm and regulated before having the conversation. Breathe slowly, tap into any of your quick stress reduction techniques. If you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, or perhaps things are escalating, it may be better to discuss at another time once you are both in a calmer state.

  • Start Small: It can be helpful to start small. Start with smaller requests or situations where the stakes aren't as high, and gradually work your way up to more challenging scenarios.

 

If conversations get heated, there are resources available to help navigate healthy relationships and conflict management:


 

If you feel unsafe when setting boundaries, seek support from those you trust or a gp, counsellor or psychologist or helplines such as 1800 Respect. See:

-           Domestic and Family Violence 

-            If experiencing immediate safety concerns, call 000

 


Ultimately, setting boundaries is an act of self-love and respect. It empowers us to honour our needs while also nurturing meaningful connections with others. We create a culture of mutual respect, understanding, and trust in our relationships.

 

If you need help in understanding your needs better or how to set boundaries, book a counselling session with me today.



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