The first time I ever heard the term boundaries was about five years ago when I was going back to therapy. What initially brought me was a toxic marriage with addiction, and I proudly walked in to see what could be done to fix my husband’s issues. However, I quickly began to see that I had my own rug of undealt-with issues I was dragging behind me. One issue I came to realize and understand more fully was that of boundaries.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are essentials for every healthy relationship. Think of boundaries as property lines that define where you begin and end and where another person begins and ends. Boundaries help us keep ourselves emotionally safe and within the limits of our own integrity. They help us take responsibility for ourselves without trying to control, fix, or take responsibility for other people.
Having non-negotiable boundaries become a part of your life will truly transform your world. While it might take time to understand and apply them to your unique situations, these practices will benefit all different types of relationships in your life.
What might boundaries look like in different relationships?
Here are some ways boundaries might look in your romantic relationships, work relationships, and in your personal life.
In romantic relationships, healthy boundaries produce:
- Clear, open, and respectful communication
- Honesty and accountability
- Respect of personal needs without controlling behaviors
- Ability to express one’s needs and wants within the relationship
In healthy work environments, boundaries can look like:
- Ensuring that communication is open, appropriate, and clear—without the fear of “being fired” for speaking honestly to a superior or co-worker
- Keeping the workplace free of gossip, petty meanness, and invasion of personal privacy
- Leaving work at work so people can rest and recharge when away from work
It can be easy to see where some areas may need boundary work and focus, but where do we begin? Here are some helpful things to keep in mind as you establish new routines with non-negotiable boundaries.
Building new boundary routines
What do you want the boundaries to look like?
Spend some time looking at all the different areas of your life and see where you may need some new or stronger boundaries. Typically, non-negotiable boundaries are those that allow a person to feel safe and respected. If the other party does not respect a given boundary you have, it can make the relationship unhealthy or at the very least, uncomfortable. But with healthy boundaries in place, seeing another party violate the boundary will make it clearer for you to see problems in the relationship that may have been less visible prior.
Practice implementing them every day.
We have all heard the saying that “practice makes perfect.” We get better at boundaries by using them in the everyday situations that come up in life: with family, friends, coworkers, and so on. The tricky part is figuring out where you need and want more boundaries. However, once you figure that out, you get to put into practice what it is you need. Do not feel it is your job to “train” others to follow your boundaries; the most important thing is for you to be committed to your boundaries whether others understand them or not.
What happens when boundaries are violated?
Be clear and calmly communicate when a boundary has been violated.
Before a boundary violation becomes a repeated offense, it is critical to address the issue right away. Be clear and direct, and be okay with the possibility that someone may not respect your boundary. You want to make sure the person (even if they don’t agree with you) at least understands where you are coming from so the present issue does not need to be continually addressed.
If the person chooses to not respect what you are saying, you can calmly choose to not engage in further discussion if it does not feel safe to you.
Let the other person know how crossing a boundary made you feel (and if it can be corrected)
If possible, let the other person know how you would prefer your boundary to be respected in the future.
“When you raised your voice at me for asking a clarifying question, I felt frustrated and not heard.”
“When you snapped at me for not being able to deliver that task on your timeframe, I felt frustrated that you did not understand my reason.”
Whatever the situation, make sure to clarify what boundary they're violating and why it bothers you so nothing is lost in translation between you and the other person.
Be patient with yourself
It can feel overwhelming sometimes to look at life or relationships seeing the work or growth that has yet to be done. Even if it feels tricky from time to time, retraining ourselves to incorporate boundaries into life is a transformative and empowering move. The transition from struggles with boundaries to implementing them can be a tough learning curve. Remember to be patient and kind with yourself as you learn and practice implementing new boundaries in your life. It might not always be smooth sailing, but you will grow in confidence as you see the changes take place before your very eyes. With time, you will feel emotionally stronger and more in control of yourself and your surroundings.