Practicing healthy, flexible boundaries is a form of self-care. If you don’t stand up for yourself and allow others to manipulate, guilt, or control you, it’s likely that your personal boundaries are porous. If you find it hard to listen with an open mind to someone else’s opinion, tend to become highly emotional, argumentative, or give advice to correct them or, conversely, shut down to keep them away, it’s a sign that your personal boundaries are rigid. When you can stand up for your boundaries, own your own thoughts and feelings yet still be open to hearing and let another person express their ideas and feelings it’s a sign that you have flexible boundaries and your inner self applauds and thanks you.
Your confidence, self-compassion and capacity for love will increase when you take responsibility for yourself, don’t take on what doesn’t belong to you, and yet are able listen with an open mind and heart to what another is sharing with you. That’s also what it means to be differentiated.
If you have never learned how to have healthy boundaries you may not even know that you have any. You may find yourself saying “yes” when you really mean “no”, overriding your needs to please others, or being bothered by someone who is demanding, controlling, criticizing, pushy, abusive, invasive, pleading, or even smothering you with kindness. If you have porous boundaries you find that you regularly cave in to or grasp onto others real or perceived needs while ignoring your own, and these codependent type of behaviors can become patterns or habits in your relationships. When we habitually don’t ask for what we need, take on caring for others whether it’s limits on our time, energy or other resources …. we are suppressing our authentic voice, our power, and joy and can end up feeling resentment, frustration and anger. These feelings are telling us that it is time for us to find our courage and strength and take responsibility for ourselves. When we don’t step into our power and ask for what we need or say “no” to requests or demands on us that don’t feel right we’re sending the other people in our lives the message that we don’t matter, but most of all we’re sending that message to ourselves.
Being able to set and maintain healthy boundaries is the starting point of all great relationships, especially with ourselves. It doesn’t mean we are being selfish or uncaring. In fact, when we can really take care of ourselves, we will be happier and have more energy and clarity to share our best selves with others with love and compassion. Love actually requires healthy boundaries because the foundation of love is respect, for ourselves and our beloved.
There are several areas where boundaries apply:
Material boundaries determine whether you give or lend things, such as your money, car, clothes, books, food, or toothbrush.
Physical boundaries pertain to your personal space, privacy, and body. Do you give a handshake or a hug – to whom and when? How do you feel about loud music, nudity, and locked doors?
Mental boundaries apply to your thoughts, values, and opinions. Are you easily suggestible? Do you know what you believe, and can you hold onto your opinions? Can you listen with an open mind to someone else’s opinion without becoming rigid? If you become highly emotional, argumentative, or defensive, you may have weak emotional boundaries.
Emotional boundaries distinguish separating your emotions and responsibility for them from someone else’s. It’s like an imaginary line or force field that separates you and others. Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming or accepting blame. They protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. High reactivity suggests weak emotional boundaries. Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries – knowing your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others.
Sexual boundaries protect your comfort level with sexual touch and activity – what, where, when, and with whom.
Spiritual boundaries relate to your beliefs and experiences in connection with God or a higher power.
We are likely to get push back from others who can feel threatened or anxious by the new assertive us, but if we breathe deeply, remind ourselves that we are valuable and worthy just as we are, we can stay strong as we practice. Three “P’s” can help us to frame this concept. The 3 “P’s” are practice, patience and persistence. So trust that while you continue to Practice, as long as you are Patient with yourself and you are willing to Persevere because you know you are worth it, you will see positive results.
Two more “P’s” are to Pause and Plan. First of all, when we notice discomfort in our bodies, we stay with that for a moment, and BREATHE, and stay with it. Our bodies are telling us that something’s not quite right, maybe we’re feeling afraid or maybe we’re feeling angry and resentful. When we breathe deeply, we deactivate Fight / Flight or stress responses in the brain (amygdala and hippocampus) that shut offs or hijacks our prefrontal cortex which helps us think clearly and make good decisions for ourselves. Breathing brings the prefrontal cortex back online and helps us stay true to our core values and beliefs.