What are Boundaries?
Boundaries can be described as imaginary lines we draw around ourselves to protect our physical, sexual and emotional energy from people’s imposing behaviour. When we know what our boundaries are and how to assert them, we teach others how to interact with us, not only when we are engaging sexually, but also during communication; when we are at work, dealing with our children, interacting with family member etc.
Boundaries are the limits we set with other people to let them know what is acceptable and unacceptable in their behaviour towards us. The ability to know our boundaries generally comes from a healthy sense of self-worth or valuing ourselves in a way that is not contingent on other people or the feelings they have toward us.
Depending on your earlier experiences in life, you either develop mostly healthy boundaries or varying degrees of unhealthy boundaries (i.e. from excessively flexible to excessively rigid). If your boundaries were not attuned to or considered growing up, or if your parents had weak boundaries, chances are you will have unhealthy boundaries. If you had heathy role models however, and your parents tuned into you a lot, you will have healthy boundaries.
Someone with Weak Boundaries (excessively flexible):
- Overshares personal information
- Has difficulty saying ‘no’ to the requests of others
- Becomes easily involved with others’ problems
- Depends on the opinions of others
- Accepts abuse and/or disrespect
- Fears rejection if they do not comply with what other people desire
- Feels intense fear, guilt and shame when someone else sets a boundary
- Over-explains and justifies whenever they say “no”
- Allows people ‘in’ very easily
- Has a strong tendency to people please
In extreme cases, weak boundaries show up as a woman who cannot say “No” to sex and who will allow someone to enter her or engage with her because their “Yes” seems more important to her than her “No”. She is afraid of losing love or being hurt if the person who wants to engage her does not get what s/he wants. Another extreme example is someone who enables an addict or a completely irresponsible adult, by giving them money or allowing them to stay in their home (even when they are completely taking advantage, not pulling their weight, stealing or engaging in high-risk behaviours). These people may assume too much responsibility for other people and live their lives caretaking others to the detriment of themselves.
Someone with Rigid Boundaries (excessively rigid):
- Avoids intimacy and close relationships
- Does not like to ask for help
- Has few close relationships
- Feels very protective of personal information
- May seem detached and/or disconnected, even with romantic partners
- Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of being seen as a failure and ultimately, being rejected
- Finds it difficult to let people ‘in’ and feels safe keeping people ‘out’
- Prefers to say “No” because their ego gets to keep the control
An extreme case of a woman with rigid boundaries is someone who completely withdraws sex and all intimacy, or who does not engage sexually or relationally very often because of their own self-protective barriers. Rather than avoiding losing love through people pleasing, these people avoid losing love by not opening to it in the first place.
Types of Boundaries
Physical Boundaries (includes sexual) teach others:
- How you like to be touched and how you don’t like to be touched
- Your comfort level with degrees of physical proximity (e.g. you feel more comfortable with a friend standing close to you as compared to someone you just met)
- The level of intimacy you are comfortable and uncomfortable with
- What is and isn’t ok in terms of different physical interactions
Emotional Boundaries teach others:
- What is and isn’t an acceptable way of speaking to you
- What your emotional needs are
- What you are willing to allow or accept from others
- What your preferences are
If you are not practicing healthy boundaries out of the bedroom, you will not be able to practice healthy boundaries in the bedroom.
The two go hand in hand so we will discuss them both. Like anything, practice makes perfect. Importantly, if you are not being clear with your boundaries out of the bedroom, chances are you will be full of resentment and rage, which is poison to relationships. The result, your heart will be closed, and you will not feel like sex. So setting healthy boundaries helps you AND your relationship.
Why Do We Need Boundaries?
Learning to set healthy boundaries is crucial in breaking cycles of co-dependency and self-protective walls that don’t actually serve us. We are always teaching others how to treat us with our own level of self-respect and self-love, so when we shut people out or we allow abusive, unhealthy, inconsiderate, toxic behaviours from our loved ones, we are teaching them that we are not worthy of love. For this to stop, we must learn how to set healthy limits with others, without withdrawing.
A boundary will keep you aware and others aware of how far they can go and how much they can do in your presence or environment.
The failure to establish and maintain personal boundaries is often a sign that you are afraid to ask for what you need to keep yourself safe. Again, this could be because you were never asked what you needed as a child,you were neglected,or your parents always told you what needed rather than tuning into you.
What I have experienced in my own life,and from observing others, is that if you have no boundaries you end up blowing up and feeling this never-ending fury, victimization, hurt, resentment and outrage. This is because if you cannot figure out how to uphold the healthy and appropriate distance between yourself and the people in your life, physically and emotionally (it will be a different distance for every person in your life), then you won’t be able to fully relax and you endup constantly reacting to what others do and say.
People live in a reactive state to try to gain safety instead of responding with certainty by holding healthy boundaries, which means that they end up giving their power away.
When you start setting healthy boundaries on the other hand, you communicate responsively rather than reactively. You start to implement natural consequences to peoples imposing behaviour rather than having to withdraw or put up with situations that are emotionally, physically or sexually quite unpleasant or even harmful. Whenever I feel that my clients or friends are overly polarised in the ‘light’ and/or let people walk all over them, I say to them ‘You need to find your healthy boundaries!’ These are often clients who place very high value on virtues such as unconditional love, forgiveness, peace, surrender, contentment and space-holding over assertiveness, certainly, respect and self-care. These ‘types’ rarely raise their voice, cannot really connect with their anger and are not in touch with the strength of fierce love or boundary setting. They confuse ‘being spiritual’ with being nice. It is not that kindness, unconditional love and equanimity aren’t essential qualities on the spiritual path, it’s just that letting people know how to treat you is also part of the path. So feel and let yourself be seen in your anger, frustration and assertiveness. Qualities that bring out and channel your protective energy and power in order to love yourself better, are just as valid as calming, soothing, nurturing qualities.
When you start to set healthy boundaries, you will find more confidence and trust in yourself and you will be able to let people know what is and isn’t okay. You will start to love and respect yourself. You will also be a lot more relaxed because you have your own back and feel safe in that rather than searching for safety outside of yourself. You stop reacting and start responding.
Most importantly, by setting healthy boundaries you stop holding resentment, anger and fear in your body from doing things you didn’t really want to do and putting up with things you really should not have been putting up with.
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In next week’s blog, I will continue to share about boundaries including what having healthy boundaries looks like, why it can be so hard to set them, and how to do so successfully.
You can also check out our upcoming workshop Awakened Relationships, in Melbourne, where you will learn more about creating healthy boundaries in relationship. Often, we either have way too much self-protection and armour or; we are complete push overs and people pleasers because we are so afraid of being hurt or losing love. During Awakened Relationships, you will understand the difference between healthy boundaries and unhealthy barriers; what your boundaries are; and how to set them in an empowering way that primarily deals with you and not the other person. It will be a ground-breaking weekend on so many levels!