What Are Personal Boundaries?

An Introduction To Personal Boundaries



What Are Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the invisible ‘barriers’ we set for ourselves, whether for the personal space around our bodies, or for our value systems. The concept dates back to primitive times when ensuring protection from other tribes, or individual tribe members, was an essential for everyday survival.

In modern times we invariably find it difficult to set appropriate boundaries for fear of offending others, whilst omitting to do so clearly can ultimately leave us unprotected, & potentially at the risk of being compromised or violated.

Boundaries are in essence like setting house rules: they are guidelines or limits that a person puts in place to identify safe, reasonable & permissible ways for other people to behave towards them. And also, how to respond when someone disrupts those limits.

They are constructed out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences, and social learning. Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining their likes and dislikes and setting out clearly the distance they allow others to approach.

Why Are Personal Boundaries Important?

As mentioned, there are many reasons why one should install firm boundaries, not just for one’s own survival as in the past, but to remain safe & settled.

Having good boundaries means respecting others’ values as well as ones’ own, thereby making for a stable community. There are degrees of relevance depending on what the boundaries are required to safeguard; there are specific types of boundaries: such as physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual, time & material.

If one person makes another feel uncomfortable, boundaries have been crossed. Setting healthy boundaries are the ultimate in forming satisfactory relationships.

How To Set Boundaries

The most important things to remember when thinking of how to set successful personal boundaries is to communicate them clearly & concisely, verbally, or to ensure that one’s body language is unambiguous.

In a situation where someone appears to agree to something, but they really do not want to do, their body language can never lie so that needs to be easily read.  Limits are more likely to be overstepped if we don’t convey them & can lead to problems over time.

Assuming that others can read between the lines invariably does not work.  Setting boundaries must be about sharing your needs for healthy interaction with someone else, which is not always easy. A person with healthy boundaries can say ‘No’ to others when they want to but can also be comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.

It is always key to put oneself in the other person’s shoes, and only deal with others in the way that is acceptable to you.

Never allow others to diminish your ideas, thoughts, or boundaries –if you accept that behaviour, you may unconsciously perceive that as a role model and in turn ultimately treat others shabbily.

Physical Boundaries:

It could be something as simple as someone who insists on speaking on the end of your nose, failing to respect the immediate area around your body. If that invisible circle we surround ourselves is breached, that can lead us to feel seriously uneasy.

There really is such a thing as personal space, according to a leading neuroscientist.  ‘The brain computes a buffer zone around the body. We have this second skin hardwired into our DNA.’

Some people are very poor at reading situations so their hand resting overlong round you when they do not know you, or they put it in an inappropriate place, giving you a kiss rather than a handshake, all of these can be physically unsettling.

Often it is not that people set out to violate your space but not having clear boundaries themselves, they fail to recognise ones that you have set.  If you wish to say that you are not really keen on kissing, you prefer to stick to and feel more comfortable with handshakes, make it very clear, and don’t feel embarrassed.

Intellectual & Emotional Boundaries:

It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between these two types of boundaries since they relate to our thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

They are violated when someone disrespects them; this can often happen in a controlling marriage when one spouse dismisses the other person’s opinions or ways of doing day to day things.

To set out one’s boundaries here one could say, ‘Our opinions may vary, however, when I’m not being heard, I feel dismissed”.

An important thing to remember when dealing with any other sentient human being, albeit spouse, friend, or merely casual acquaintance, that it is not what one says to them but how one leaves the other person feeling that will impact them most & for longest.

Respecting emotional boundaries means validating others’ feelings, not dismissing them, and invalidating that person.

Example of respecting emotional boundaries –
“I’m here for you & support you, I’m grateful that you’ve shared this with me.”

Example of setting emotional boundaries –
‘When I share my feelings with you and get criticised, it makes me totally shut down. I can only share with you if you are able to respond with more respect.’

If someone is sharing an opinion that is inherently unacceptable to you: racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia etc. Then you have every right to set a firm boundary in your own way by stating firmly, “I can respect that we have very different opinions on this, however, I have found what you’ve said, to be *******”.

Sharing inappropriate emotional information with one’s children is something that can happen sometimes during the trauma of a divorce, which is unfair and infringes their boundaries when they may be too immature to cope.

From the word boundary we get knows no bounds, meaning that someone does not recognise limits, & out-of-bounds meaning unacceptable, both negative connotations.

Material Boundaries:

These refer to items and possessions like your home, car, clothing, jewellery, furniture, money, etc. Having limits on how your material items are treated is healthy and prevents resentment over time.

Money can be used to manipulate and control relationships which may be a violation within a marriage if a spouse with-holds housekeeping money or is mean.

Many years ago, I had bought a pair of white jeans when I was an impecunious student nurse and my flatmate took them to wear to a party, before I had worn them and without even asking. As flatmates, we had always had a “protocol” whereby, we only ever borrowed items if we asked permission and it had been agreed to. But certainly, never on brand new clothes.

Having bought them rather well, I had been so excited about having found them and was really looking forward to strutting my stuff at a doctor’s party & she took that away from me. When I discovered what she had done, I was extremely upset at her, as boundaries were set beforehand but were completely disrespected.

Sexual Boundaries:

Healthy sexual boundaries include, amongst other things consent, agreement, respect and understanding of preferences. You are well within your rights to say “No” to things that you do not like, and that should be respected.

One should feel comfortable enough to be able to say, ‘I don’t want to have sex tonight. Can we cuddle instead?’  In a loving relationship where both partners have set satisfactory boundaries, that should not end up in sulks or angry rows.

Where there is a lack of boundaries, one partner can make unwanted sexual comments, criticising the other person’s sexual preferences or even performance to demean the other person and bolster their ego.

Time Boundaries:

You need to ensure that as your time is precious, setting boundaries means understanding your priorities and setting aside enough time to manage the many areas of your life, without over committing.

If you are a busy person, you will always be the one that is asked to do extra things but set limits and give yourself permission to say “No” firmly when necessary. Plus feel free to say, ‘I am happy to help with that. My hourly rate is…’ and say it with conviction and without embarrassment.

Try to remember to ask someone if they have time to talk when you ring – most of us are too polite to say it is not a convenient time. Keeping people in conversations or on tasks for longer than we should, can disrupt our timing and on particularly busy days it can throw our schedules out.

The more we set boundaries for ourselves, the more we are able to recognise the ones that others have set.

Finding It Difficult To Set Boundaries?

If you’re finding it difficult to set boundaries, there could be several reasons for that.
For example –

  • Fear of rejection
  • Afraid of conflict
  • Unsure where to begin (You may have not seen or had healthy boundaries growing up)
  • Guilt

No matter what the reasons, if you continue to find it difficult to set boundaries and be assertive, ask for professional support and guidance. Vanquish Therapies can help you to identify the obstacles you’re facing and will assist you in vanquishing them.