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The importance of setting healthy boundaries

Opinion & Analysis
Boundaries help us define when and how we choose to live our lives and interact with those around us. If we are not deciding these things, then who is?

BOUNDARIES are physical or emotional limits that define what behaviours we find acceptable for ourselves. We apply them through our actions and communication.

When well defined, boundaries allow us to feel secure and healthy. They also help us to create tools to protect our emotional and mental wellbeing, which in turn allows us to show up in life as our best selves.

Boundaries help us define when and how we choose to live our lives and interact with those around us. If we are not deciding these things, then who is?

When we set boundaries, we set the initiative instead of going with the flow. In the absence of boundaries, resentment grows.

This may be resentment towards our jobs, loved ones or sometimes, even ourselves. 

When our boundaries are clear, we use our time and energy wisely. In a 24-hour day, it is up to us to make the most of the time we have.

When we limit our interactions in activities that are not in our best interest, we lower our stress and fatigue levels.

This helps us to direct more energy towards our priorities. It is important to note that although we may set boundaries, not everything will happen the way we would have expected, and that is okay.

Our boundaries give us authority over the things within our control, not necessarily, how people react to them.

When setting boundaries, one should have both hard and soft boundaries. Hard boundaries are those that are non-negotiable. Usually these boundaries align with our principles and virtues.

Soft boundaries can be seen as flexible desires. Being aware of the difference will help you allocate your energy and effort accordingly. Having clear priorities can aid us in identifying our non-negotiables.

There are six main categories one should pay attention to when setting boundaries.

Emotional boundaries: These include respecting and honouring feelings and energy. One should avoid emotional dumping, asking inappropriate questions or introducing unnecessary topics as well as justifying their ignorance towards another’s emotions.

Material boundaries: These include our possessions eg our cars, jewellery, money, etc. We have a say in whether or whether not we want to lend our goods.

As a rule, we should care about items lent to us and try to handle them as our own.

Time/energy boundaries: Time is valuable and it is important to protect how it is utilised. When we do not have the time to show up for an event, or to do a task well, we should say so. Tardiness, a foul mood, fatigue and late cancellations are some of the effects of overbooking one’s time.

Mental: These include our thoughts, values and beliefs. As these may differ from person to person, we should not force our beliefs on other people. We should respect people including how they think, feel and express themselves.

 Physical boundaries: These include the need for personal space, comfort or discomfort with touch, and other physical needs like the need to rest, eat or drink water etc. We all have needs to a varying degree.

Violations can look like uncomfortable physical contact, or being denied our physical needs (rest, food, etc). Severe violations can result in serious consequences such as physical abuse or neglect.

Sexual boundaries: Healthy sexual boundaries include consent, agreement and respect, understanding of preferences and desires and privacy.

In addition to the categories stated above, listed below are some points to consider when setting your boundaries:

  1. Determine your top priorities in life.
  2. Understand your worth
  3. Identify your non-negotiables
  4. Be clear and concise
  5. Manage and negotiate expectations
  6. Beware of burnout
  7. Commit to your boundaries

There is no guarantee as to whether a set boundary works until it has been tried and tested.

As you transition to using your set boundaries, you should pay attention to the effectiveness of your boundaries alongside how they make you feel.

Initial discomfort is expected, as not everyone may agree with your boundaries. It is important to be firm while simultaneously being kind.

The only way to reap the benefits of boundary setting is through committing to them. It is our responsibility to uphold our boundaries. If someone crosses our boundaries, we should let them know.

As we enforce our boundaries, we should be sensitive to the boundaries of others and treat them with respect.

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