What are Boundaries and Why Do They Matter? by Laurie Patrice, LPC,BCPC,CPCS

Anyone having a conversation these days about emotional wellbeing is likely to hear someone speak about the importance of personal boundaries. But just what does that mean? A boundary by definition is anything that marks a limit.  Boundaries can be emotional, psychological, energetic, or physical.  The purpose of boundaries is ultimately to keep us safe and to assure our relationships are healthy. They are the limits we set to protect ourselves from being used, manipulated, or violated by others.  They allow us to separate our personal identity, thoughts, and feelings from those of others. Healthy boundaries involve taking responsibility for your own actions emotions while not taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of others.

When we honor the boundaries of others, we are showing respect for them and for ourselves.  When others violate our boundaries or we violate those of others, personal integrity is jeopardized.  Boundary violations can be as obvious as violence against another or as insidious as a parent manipulating a child to meet his/her emotional needs.  We may be aware when we violate another's boundaries.  Often times, we are not.  Without healthy boundaries we cannot have heathy relationships.  Everyone has a right to personal boundaries, adults and children, alike.

We generally learn about boundaries by seeing them modeled. Unless we have experiences to call to our attention to the fact that others have ideas about boundaries that are different from those we had modeled, we can live out our lives repeating the patterns we experienced in childhood.  This works well if we had healthy models.  It can be problematic if we did not.  It is usually more obvious if we violate or have violated physical boundaries.  It may not be as obvious if emotional, psychological, and energetic boundaries are violated. If you are curious to know if you learned healthy boundaries or not, if you wonder if youare violating the boundaries of others or allowing yours to be compromised, here are some questions to ask yourself.  Notice if the questions you answer as true about yourself suggest more of a tendency to disrespect the boundaries of others or challenges setting and holding your own boundaries.

  1. Do I answer the phone or respond to a text immediately regardless of what else I may be doing?
  2. Do I find myself exhausted after spending time with certain people?
  3. Do I often feel I have “overshared” with others, feeling I have no right to secrets?
  4. Do I need to feel frustrated or angry before I set limits with another?
  5. Do I truly believe that I have a right to my own thoughts, feelings, interests, and opinions? Ask yourself this again..truly…
  6. Do I recognize that everyone else has a right to his/her own thoughts, feelings, interests, and opinions even if I am not comfortable with them? 
  7. Do I have trouble saying no?
  8. Do I tell others what they should do, think, or feel?
  9. Do I have trouble making decisions independently?
  10. Do I take responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings or do I blame others?
  11. Do I feel uncomfortable with the powerful emotions of another?
  12. Do I try to “fix” things for others?
  13. Do I try to change (or take care of before they happen) the emotional responses of someone else?
  14. Do I consistently deny my own feelings or needs in order to help, soothe, or manage another?
  15. Do I take as truth the most recent opinion I have heard?
  16. Do I have few hobbies because I have little tolerance for self-directed behavior?
  17. Am I manipulated by flattery?
  18. Do I disregard my own intuition in favor of wishes or other’s opinions?
  19. Do I do favors that I inwardly resent?
  20. Do I act out of compliance?
  21. Am I enmeshed (entangled) in the lives of others?
  22. Do I have difficulty knowing where my thoughts and feelings stop and another’s begins?

If any of these is true for you, it is likely that you could benefit from learning more about healthy boundaries. The more that you find true for you, the more support you may need to make changes. Reading books, talking with a therapist, journaling to connect with your own inner experience are some steps you can take. Next month’s Perspectives newsletter will also have suggestions for setting and holding healthy boundaries.
Learning how to set, hold, and respect healthy boundaries can be life-changing.  When your boundaries are intact and healthy you can expect to have happier, healthier relationships and a healthier more empowered sense of self.