What are boundaries?
A boundary is a limit or an edge that defines you as separate from others. A fence is a boundary of one’s property line. Our skin defines the limit of our physical selves – but we also have emotional, spiritual, sexual and relational boundaries.
What do boundaries do for us?
Boundaries tell you what your limit is and what is safe and appropriate for you. Everything within your boundaries (feelings, reactions, beliefs, thoughts, personal histories, goals, concerns etc.) makes up your youness, that which makes you an individual different and separate from others. What is comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another.
How do boundaries vary?
Boundaries vary based on who you are interacting with. We allow a spouse to stand closer to us than a friend, and a friend closer than a stranger. We will feel comfortable sharing personal information with a friend but not with an acquaintance.
Sometimes people are not aware of another person’s boundary and will try to breach it. This breach can come in many ways. A co-worker may ask a question about personal information that you are not comfortable sharing (How much do you weigh? What is you salary?). An acquaintance may stand too close and continue to invade your space even if you move away. Boundary violations can come in the form of violence or abuse (to children and adults). These violations can have lasting effects on people.
Enforcing Your Boundaries:
You need to know what you are comfortable with in order to enforce your boundaries. You can spend time thinking about your identity, values, goals, desires and concerns so that you know what you are comfortable with. You can learn skills such as assertive communication in order to state and enforce your boundaries. You are continuously interacting with other people and situations that can test your comfort zone. By honouring yourself and enforcing your boundaries you ensure that you are keeping yourself safe and healthy.
Spend some time watching other people’s boundaries – how close do people stand at work, or at a bus stop? Does one person move away when another gets too close? How much space do people give when passing each other on the street or in the office? What kind of remarks do you hear in the office, how do people respond to certain questions? Watch your children, how do they protect their own space? Does your spouse communicate important needs or feelings?
When we have a good understanding of ourselves (values, beliefs, needs, wants) we are better able to recognize what does not feel comfortable for us and assert our boundaries to keep ourselves safe.
If you want to spend time exploring, developing, and learning to enforce your boundaries you may want to book an appointment with a counsellor or a mental health professional.