American research professor Brené Brown asserts that the most compassionate people she encounters via her research also have more healthy boundaries in place. What does it mean to have healthy boundaries? Why do people struggle to assert boundaries in their relationships with others? How can you make sure you have personal boundaries in your own life? What do unhealthy boundaries look like? Here, you will find answers to some of your questions about personal boundaries.
What Are Healthy Personal Boundaries?
Essentially, having healthy boundaries means having to courage to say “no” to others when you don’t like something, or would prefer not to be involved in any given activity. However, a person with healthy boundaries is still willing to say “yes” to many things and enjoy close relationships with other people.
To clarify, a person with healthy boundaries may politely refuse the offer of dining at a fish restaurant with a friend simply because they are not keen, and would rather eat something else. They would state not being a fish fan as their reason for declining the offer, give suggestions for another restaurant, and generally be willing to compromise.
In contrast, a person with very severe boundaries would be inflexible about going out to dinner with a friend anywhere, at any point in time. A person with insufficient boundaries would probably go to the restaurant regardless, feel resentful about it, and possibly gag while trying to swallow their fish.
Why Is It Good to Assert Healthy Boundaries?
If you often say “yes” when you’d like to say “no,” then you know already that not asserting your boundaries sometimes makes you feel rather resentful and bitter towards others. In the worst-case scenario, not asserting boundaries leads to passive-aggressive, toxic, and even vengeful behavior. Instead of enjoying relationships with friends and family, you’ll bear them grudges for always having to do things their way. You may start to feel like you’re being pushed around by them. In reality, however, it’s your responsibility to stand up for yourself, and nobody else’s.
If you never say “no” or set limits, it’s impossible to enjoy healthy, mature relationships with others. Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect for yourself and other people. Never asserting your boundaries can damage your relationship with yourself, too. It’s hard to like yourself if you haven’t got the courage to respect your own ideas for fear of the impact that this may have on your relationships with others.
Why Are People Afraid to Assert Boundaries?
Many people struggle to say “no” to others for fear of upsetting them and thereby damaging the relationship. Some are inclined to worry that they’ll be rejected by others for asserting boundaries. It’s easy to overlook the fact that a sincere friend or family member would never stop being there for you based on the fact that you have said “no” to them.
In truth, you’re more likely to run into relationship issues with other people by being too easy-going and always saying “yes.” Trying hard to please others too much can create a sizable shadow-self. This is because striving too hard to be selfless generally means ignoring many of your own intrinsic desires and instincts.
You are less likely to snap over seemingly irrelevant things and become oversensitive if you pay attention to your own needs rather than just serving others all of the time. Remember the old maxim about it being impossible to pour from an empty vessel. You must take care of your own needs effectively before you can be useful to others in any meaningful way.
Why Are Some People’s Boundaries Excessively Rigid?
Some people are highly sensitive regarding the opinions of other people. They find it very difficult to tolerate condemnation. They can’t bear to be spurned. To avoid this type of emotional pain, they often seek to avoid human interactions. Someone with too many strict boundaries will typically cut other people out of their lives too easily. They may also avoid getting involved with other people’s problems. You might notice that these people generally remain polite, but distant. For example, a long-time work-colleague who never attends a single office party or staff night out may have very rigid boundaries.
How Can You Assert Healthy Boundaries?
How can you let others know where your boundaries lie healthily, without being too passive or assertive? Here are some tips:
- Know What You Want
You have to have a level of self-awareness when it comes to setting boundaries healthily. Whenever something about an interaction with another individual makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself what outcome you’d rather have had. Decide what you can do to increase the odds of getting the outcome you want if faced with such a situation again, and take action. That way, you’ll know what you really want, and so will those around you.
For instance, imagine you tell a friend something personal about yourself. They then share that information with another mutual friend. It makes you feel uncomfortable. You’d rather friends didn’t share information about you when you’re not around. What do you do now? To assert healthy boundaries in this imagined scenario, you speak to the loose-lipped friend. You calmly tell them you didn’t like what they did. You politely request that it doesn’t happen again. Also, you would subsequently be cautious about the information you share with that friend. If someone shows you that they’re not trustworthy, you believe them.
- Share What You Want
It’s also up to you to decide how much information you share about yourself. Try to have a mature attitude about it, too. Not sharing enough information and being excessively private may seem unfriendly from the perspective of those who were merely hoping for a friendly chat. Conversely, sharing too much information can backfire, because some people are exploitative.
You may encounter people who press you to share more than you’d like. If this happens, you can either change the subject or kindly tell them it’s not something you’re comfortable talking about. Similarly, you don’t owe anyone else an explanation for your opinions or actions. Never feel that you have to explain what you were thinking or why you did what you did just because others ask. You needn’t express any opinion at all if you feel disinclined. You’re allowed to have a private life and personal thoughts.
Sharing what you want also applies to your money and personal possessions. Don’t let anyone make you feel that they are entitled to a portion of what you have worked for and earned, regardless of who they are and their place in your life. Share only because you genuinely want to share and think it is the right thing to do.
- Respect Your Own Ideas and Opinions
Imagine that you always go to dinner with a friend on Friday nights. Every week, you go to the same restaurant. You really want to try the seafood restaurant next to the harbor. However, your friend is set in their ways. They love the restaurant you usually frequent. What will happen if you never mention your wish to try the seafood restaurant next to the harbor? How will you feel if the seafood restaurant closes before you’ve had the chance to try it? What happens if life moves on and you never visit any other restaurant simply because your friend likes the same old place?
If you never talk about and do what you want to do, you’re sure to feel resentment and regret. The same applies to never saying what you really think for fear of upsetting others. If you make too many compromises, you’ll never get the life you want, or express yourself honestly. Sadly, time will eventually run out, too. Nobody should feel they have to live life on other people’s terms.
- Respect The Boundaries of Others
Respect is also a two-way street. Having some healthy boundaries is excellent for your mental health. However, if you’re allowed to have boundaries, you should allow others to have them, too. Suppose, for instance, that you like to be left to have your coffee in your room in peace for a while the morning. Your teenage son respects this wish. Yet you frequently barge into his room without knocking, despite knowing he dislikes it. Would that be fair to your teenage son, or is it disrespectful? Would your son be justifiably angry? You have to give respect to others to get it back regardless of your age and position, or theirs.
When it comes to respecting others, you should also be careful about how you tell people about your boundaries. If you say things angrily, using the wrong tone of voice or ill-chosen words, others may feel you’re just looking for confrontation. They also may feel their own boundaries have been breached. You can always tell other people what you’d like without resorting to any unnecessary unpleasantness.
- When Your Boundaries Are Crossed
Most people have no problem respecting other people’s boundaries if they’re informed of them compassionately. However, some people have toxic personalities. As such, they refuse to respect the boundaries of other people. Indeed, some people seem to take pleasure in trampling over the boundaries of other individuals.
If you encounter such a person, how should you respond? You can’t control the behavior or actions of others. Nor should you want to do so. However, you can control your own reactions. If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, you can distance yourself from them. Stop spending time with them, or have as little to do with them as possible. Instead, spend your time with people who accept your boundaries, and feel comfortable expressing their own.
A Happier You
Having healthy personal boundaries is wonderful. You shouldn’t worry about other people being upset by them, as long as you assert them compassionately. Having boundaries will help you to live a life in which you can fully express who you are and what you want in psychologically healthy ways. This will ultimately make you much happier, and more compassionate. It’s correct to be as honest as possible about desires, likes, dislikes and opinions if you wish to feel more content, and live life authentically.