Why Set Boundaries?
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Philip S. Graffunder, LCSW
Boundaries are like invisible fences, and like all fences they create a boarder that outlines and protects. In terms of interpersonal behavior, they define the limits we have set that surround us emotionally, behaviorally, and physically. When your boundaries are crossed by others, it usually feels like some sort of violation that produces mild to extreme discomfort.
To set a boundary is to announce to another what you will and won’t accept or tolerate from them. In effect you are saying, “My area of personal space, and my comfort level in this relationship starts and ends at certain places, so does yours. I want/need to make it clear to you where I draw those lines.” Setting boundaries is not disrespectful, bad or wrong. Boundaries help you feel safe in your environment and therefore, when set appropriately, are healthy and good for you. It is a sign of respect for ourselves and others to set healthy boundaries, even with our most loved ones, because only then can these lines be known, accepted, and honored. Physical space boundaries are the most obvious, but our emotional and psychological territory is just as important. For instance, this may involve not allowing or reducing someone’s access to you in order to block their unwanted influence on your thoughts or behaviors
Setting boundaries affirms your sense of self-worth because you are sending the message that you are a person who respects him/her self, and that your needs and desires are worthy of being honored. Moreover, boundaries let people know what you do and don’t want, as well as letting them know what your limits are. This gives your associates, friends, and intimates the security of knowing that relationship guidelines apply and this is what they are. When you eliminate doubts about how others should treat you, the people in your life learn what they can and cannot do if they wish to maintain the status quo of their relationship with you. People who consistently fail to honor your clear boundaries are sending you a very direct message, aren’t they?
As mentioned previously, physical boundaries are important to establish. This is true because they outline your needs and rights in terms of physical space, psychological comfort, and safety. Once set, a person knows how close they can get to you and whether they can touch you or not. They also inform others how close you wish to get to them and whether or not you are comfortable touching them.
Psychological and emotions boundaries can be more nebulous than their physical counterparts, but are not difficult to create and communicate. They convey to others the notion that you have a comfort zone, an allowable area for them to tread, one that honors your emotional needs and personal rights. Healthy internal boundaries prevent others from emotionally manipulating you into taking responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and behaviors (e.g., you have ended, they have begun, but they try to make you responsible for their feelings anyway.) Internal boundaries provide a useful guide, one that allows you to focus on taking charge of that which you have the most control and responsibility for — your own thoughts, feelings, choices, and behaviors.
A rigid boundary is like an impenetrable wall. Nothing can go in or come out. It gives others the message “Don’t come near me.” People with rigid boundaries typically do not trust others and often have difficulty forming intimate relationships.
Those who have difficulty setting boundaries with others may often:
Talk at an intimate level upon first meeting someone or very early in a relationship.
“Fall in love” with new acquaintances or anyone who reaches out.
Allow others to preoccupy their thoughts.
Go against their own values or rights to please others or get their approval
Are unable to notice if others display inappropriate boundaries
Accept things from others even if they don’t want it, including offers, gifts, touch, etc.
Let, or require that, others direct their life.
Let others define their needs and limits on an emotional and physical level
Fall apart so others will take care of them.
Potentially engage in self abuse
Those who violate others’ boundaries often:
Take as much as they can for the sake of taking.
Are not aware, or don’t care, when others are uncomfortable with them or their behavior.
Demand others affection and/or attention. They expect others to fulfill their needs, and tend to respond with anger when other people don’t comply.
Try to dictate how others should think, feel, or act, and may become abusive.
Discount or ignore the rights of others.
An erratic boundary is created when an individual lacks consistency in setting healthy boundaries with others. They may set healthy boundaries in some situations or with some people yet exhibit unhealthy boundaries in other situations or with other people. Try as they might, they are often unclear about their rights and role in boundary setting and tend to leave other people as confused as they are.
Those with healthy boundaries:
Notice and speak up when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries or invades their personal space.
Decide who, when, and to what degree they want to trust.
Move step-by-step into intimacy. They reveal a little of themselves, then check to see how the other person responds before sharing more.
Decide for themselves whether or not a relationship is good for them.
Stay focused on their own growth or recovery regardless of others’ views or demands.
Maintain their personal values despite what others may want from them.
Say “no” to food, gifts, offers, hugs, etc. when they don’t want them.
Ask a person before touching them.
Respect others and do not take advantage of others’ generosity.
Do not give in to others just to be liked.
Do not allow others to take advantage of them or their generosity.
Recognize that others are not mind readers, and therefore, clearly communicate wants and needs while allowing others to do the same.
Trust their own decisions.
Exhibit self respect.
Know what they want and define their own reality accordingly.
If you would like to explore this further,
and perhaps discover other answers about yourself, feel free to contact me at 404-295-4852.
Philip S. Graffunder is the owner of
Positive Social Growth Counseling and Therapy Center.
He is a therapist, counselor, and clinical social worker with more than 20 years’ experience.