Have you ever wondered what people mean when they talk about psychological boundaries? Many people believe that boundaries are just about ‘switching off’ or distancing themselves from something. But read on to find out how having healthy boundaries is about far more than that…
Psychologically healthy boundaries are an important tool you can use to look after your mental health and wellbeing. But what are they? This article will give you some idea what healthy boundaries are, and how to achieve them.
What Is A Boundary?
A boundary simply put, is the edge of something. When psychologists use the term boundaries they are usually trying to separate different parts of something up in order to see them individually. There are two important types of psychological boundary:
– External Boundaries (between you, the world and other people)
– Internal Boundaries (the links and different aspects within you)
Why Are Boundaries So Important?
Having health boundaries ensures that your needs are more likely to be met – which in turn can improve your self esteem and overall wellbeing.
By having healthy external boundaries you can set acceptable limits of behaviour with people around you, which can help to keep relationships clear, nurturing and safe. Healthy external boundaries also allow you to manage and balance different (and sometimes competing) parts of your life better – for example work and family life.
Healthy internal boundaries, on the other hand, can allow you to understand yourself better and to grow and develop as a person. For example, by being able to identify boundaries and differences between emotions it can be possible to become more aware of how you are feeling in different situations, which means that it can be easier to deal with things in more helpful ways. For example there can often be fine lines between certain emotions such as anger and anxiety. By understanding boundaries between these different emotions it can allow you to deal with route causes of problematic emotions much more simply.
Setting Different Healthy Boundaries:
Here are some different external and internal boundaries to think about in your life…
Time Boundaries – think about what balance of your time is best between different parts of your life. Do your best to plan your time around these, rather than matching your boundaries to different things that need your time. Whilst this can be easier said that done it is one of the most important boundaries you can set, because your time really is precious and can’t be replaced or changed later on. Often when people experience problems such as chronic stress there can be significant difficulties in keeping time boundaries.
Physical Boundaries – most of us are aware when someone intrudes on our personal space, but how many people actually take actions to keep their physical boundaries? As far as possible try not to be afraid of telling someone if they are exceeding your physical boundary, but make sure to also tell them how to remedy it.
Sexual Boundaries – what boundaries will help you get the most from intimacy and sex, both in the long and short term? Useful things to think about are what you want more of, less of and to keep the same. Try doing this ahead of intimate moments so that it is easier to communicate with your partner at the right moment, without needing to do too much thinking. Other things to consider with sexual boundaries are, who, where, when and frequency you wish to have sexual contact with?
Emotional Boundaries – See if you can take a moment throughout your day to ask yourself how you are feeling. Often if you have identified an emotion it will be just one word. For example, happy, sad, anxious or angry. Do you feel just one emotion or several emotions at the same time? If you feel several emotions, which ones are relatively more or less intense. Sometimes it can be useful to grade the intensity of emotions, for example by considering what percentage you feel that emotion on a 0-100% scale. On a similar note, do you notice particular emotions in different parts of you body? Exploring links between emotional and physical experiences can also be a helpful way to tease apart different moment by moment emotions.
How Not To Use Boundaries:
As Weapons – It is important to remember that the main reason for having a healthy boundary is to improve your overall wellbeing and to help you achieve better relationships with yourself and others. One way that people can sometimes use boundaries, is to ‘weaponise’ them. What this means is using a personal psychological boundary as a way to ‘prove a point’ or as a way to create a particular reaction in someone else.
For example someone may set a boundary that they know will deprive someone else of something they value or need, for no good reason. The effect of this can be to create unnecessary tensions in the relationship. A healthy way to approach this is considering what makes you want to use this boundary with the other person and to explore this with them, or a therapist.
To Manipulate Others – Sometimes boundaries can be unhealthy when they are used to manipulate another person into acting in a particular way that is against their own needs or values. Examples of boundary manipulation can be blackmail. Whilst this sounds extreme, it is important to ensure that you have as clear idea as possible of the boundaries of other people as well as yourself. This will help you to avoid encouraging someone else to break their own boundaries.
To Shut Off From Yourself – With internal boundaries it is important to recognise that connecting and identifying emotions can be a really helpful thing to do. Be aware that sometimes it can also be an overwhelming experience, and so the key is to ask yourself how the boundary can be important you you in that moment. For example if it helps protect you from unhelpfully overwhelming levels of emotion that it can be useful to hold the boundary until you have acquired some new tools to help you experience and work with difficult emotions. In other cases it can be more useful to gradually recognise the boundary, and if it seems to be an unhealthy one that is preventing you from gaining emotional change, to gently explore it. Sometimes this can be more helpfully done with the support of a trained and experienced psychotherapist or psychologist.
Do you have examples of boundaries that are important in your life? It would be great to hear about them! Perhaps they will be useful to other people too… Please feel free to share your ideas below…