You may hear people (women and therapists!) talk about boundaries. What are boundaries, why do you care and what good are they? Let’s take a look…
Think of boundaries as the personal rules you live by that keep you safe. They also establish guidelines for how we treat other people and how we expect to be treated. Boundaries help regulate emotions, avoid conflict, establish ground rules, are examples for others, and have many other uses. Boundaries can be external or internal rules and come in many forms – physical, financial, emotional, sexual, familial, etc.
On the external side, it’s easy to understand a physical boundary. Some people are uncomfortable hugging. If you get too close, they become anxious. They have a boundary around physical space and when you cross that boundary, bad things can happen.
Almost everyone has sexual boundaries. No sex on the first date is a sexual boundary. Certain sex acts are off-limits is a sexual boundary. These boundaries keep people sexually and emotionally safe. When you attempt to cross one of these boundaries (because you don’t share the same boundary) you will likely be met with a stern “No” – and that’s good. If a person has these boundaries but does not put up the stop sign when the boundaries are being crossed, bad things happen to both parties, including emotional strain and stress, guilt, shame, anger, blame, and many other problems.
Emotional boundaries may be things like, “Don’t raise your voice at me.” or “Be honest with me instead of being passive aggressive.”
Financial boundaries for a couple might be something like, “Neither of us will spend more than $200 without checking with the other first.” or “We agree to never lend money to family members.” These boundaries keep the couple financially safe and secure.
Internal boundaries are equally important but less talked about. Regulating your own thoughts and emotions, your self-talk, is extremely important. When you have boundaries that you have established for yourself, you are much more likely to stay emotionally safe, experience the world’s reality (rather than your own skewed reality), avoid many conflicts and arguments, and treat yourself in a more healthy manner.
Internal boundaries may be things like, “I will not objectify women.” or “I am a good person and responsible for my own actions and no one else’s.” or “I have respect for my intellect, my emotions and my body.” Establishing these boundaries helps you to avoid taking on someone else’s blame, shame, negativity, etc. and will help keep you emotionally and intellectually safe and secure.
Consider doing a little research on boundaries and writing yours down – both internal and external – review them regularly and begin to notice changes in your life.