You may have heard people talk about having “good boundaries” with other people, or say that their boundaries are horrible and they have a hard time saying “no.” Most people understand the gist of what is meant by the word boundaries, however, not everyone understands exactly what boundaries are, how they are created and upheld, and how implementing healthy boundaries can be rewarding.
Boundaries take many forms and can look different for each individual. In general, there are three categories of boundaries: rigid, open, and flexible. When people have more rigid (or closed) boundaries, they may keep others distant (both emotionally and physically), have few close relationships, or even avoid relationships. Sometimes, people with more rigid boundaries are quick to cut people out of their lives, feel misunderstood or alone, and have difficulty trusting others. Often people who implement more rigid boundaries grew up in an environment where that rigidity was necessary to survive a relationship with an overly critical caretaker or someone who could not be trusted to keep them safe. In addition, growing up in an environment with strict rules and codes can encourage the development of more rigid boundaries.
Open (or loose) boundaries are the opposite of rigid boundaries. Many people with more open boundaries get involved with others’ problems, overshare information about themselves, and have common “people-pleasing” traits, such as fear of rejection, difficulty saying “no,” and prioritizing others’ needs and wants. Open boundaries can develop from having an enmeshed family growing up. While being close to your family is often viewed as a good thing, enmeshed families lack healthy boundaries, which is confusing for children and adults alike. Without clearly defined boundaries, people within these enmeshed families can find it difficult to develop their own identity and autonomy outside of the family system. Enmeshment can actually hinder emotion regulation and the ability to make friends outside of the family.
In between these two extremes, flexible boundaries tend to be the healthiest. People with flexible boundaries are familiar with and understand their own needs and opinions, accept when others say “no” and feel comfortable telling others “no,” and share personal information appropriately. Flexible boundaries implement behaviors from both rigid and open boundaries, however the key is that people with more flexible boundaries can appropriately decide when to be more rigid or more open, depending on the situation. For example, someone with flexible boundaries may have more rigid boundaries with coworkers, while implementing more open boundaries with one member of their family they trust. What’s beautiful about flexible boundaries is that, no matter what environment you grew up in or the type of boundaries you implement now, flexible boundaries are an evolving strategy that anyone can learn how to use.
So, how do we start implementing more flexible and healthy boundaries? That can be a tricky question, and depends on the types of relationships you have in your life! With the holidays quickly approaching, many people are planning on spending time with both immediate and extended family. This is a great place to start implementation of flexible boundaries! While setting them can seem daunting or scary, boundaries are ultimately a form of self-love and compassion. They help keep us safe by providing clear and protective ways to advocate for our wants and needs. Without boundaries, it can be difficult to be happy in relationships with others, because you feel exhausted from either constantly distancing yourself or constantly being involved in the inner lives of the people around you. Here are some tips and tricks to start implementing flexible boundaries!
Understand the different subtypes of boundaries, and identify how you want to enforce them with the different people in your life. Types of boundaries include
Physical: personal space, privacy, and your body
Sexual: expectations around intimacy
Intellectual: your thoughts and beliefs
Emotional: your feelings and emotions
Practice with small, manageable goals. Implementing large-scale boundaries with family and friends when you have no experience doing so can end with a lot of people being hurt or frustrated, including you. Start with something that is small and manageable, and spend some time planning how you want to implement this boundary. For example, if you want to set a boundary with family members surrounding your privacy about a minor medical condition, you can start by thinking of who you want to implement this boundary with, planning how you will divert the conversation to protect your privacy (i.e. “I am not comfortable talking about this.” “I don’t have much to update on, but how are things going at work?” “I’d prefer not to talk about this right now.”), and identifying how you can be consistent with this boundary.
Start with yourself. Implementing boundaries with others can seem like a foreign concept, especially when you don’t have clearly defined boundaries for yourself. Start with some inner work and explore the different ways you set boundaries with yourself. For example, think about your expectations for others responding to phone calls or text messages, what you share on social media, how you speak to yourself in your mind, or how you treat your body. One of the best ways to practice flexible boundary setting is by starting with our own inner dialogue. In many ways, boundary setting is most effective when it comes from a place of recognizing self-worth. Start by implementing ways to celebrate yourself, do things you enjoy, and combat negative self-talk.
Healthy boundaries are a great way to decrease stress and anxiety while improving self-esteem and self-confidence. Personally, I love helping people learn about boundaries and how to become assertive. Reach out today if you need some extra support in this area! Call us at 217-731-4638 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.