Creating Healthy Relationships Using Boundaries

Relationship boundaries are personal guidelines that navigate the intensity of connection you allow others to have. These can be physical, emotional, or psychological, and they are essential to maintain healthy relationships, promote respect, and prevent abuse or neglect. In order to have healthy and mutually beneficial relationships in our life, it is important to identify and clearly define what we expect from others, what we are comfortable with, and what we can tolerate from others. (White, 2022). 

Boundaries are learned through our early experiences; our relationship with our primary caretaker and other significant people is a steppingstone in defining how we react and respond to people, as well as the behavior we tolerate from others. Unfortunately, many times, people develop acceptance of negativity because they have experienced the same maltreatment in the past. (Lebow, 2021). There are many early life experiences that influence our relationships and what we consider to be our norm. Examples of these experiences include:

1.     Psychosocial Development: According to Erik Erikson, the parent-child relationship during the first year of a child’s life is essential for developing trust in relationships. If the caretaker delays the basic needs, the person will grow up to allow others to invalidate the boundaries too.

2.     Attachment style: Bowlby and Ainsworth theorized that a child’s development with their primary caregiver could significantly impact their ability to set boundaries in relationships later in life. Children who have a secure attachment style are more likely to feel safe and confident in developing and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships. In contrast, children with insecure attachment styles may struggle with boundary setting due to a lack of trust or fear of rejection. Additionally, children who experience unstable environments develop an anxious attachment style or disorganized attachment; these children grow up to be people pleasers who feel responsible for someone’s negative behavior; they develop acceptance of toxicity and feel anxious or scared when they cannot resolve a problematic situation. (Lamborn, et al., 1999).

3.     Family dynamics: Children learn to interact vicariously through parent-modeled behavior. Children will overexpress or repress their emotions if parents have poor emotional regulations. Similarly, in households that have dominant and submissive roles within the family structure, children will struggle with setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships.

4.     Cultural and social norms: Cultural and social norms can also influence a child’s understanding of boundaries. For example, it may be considered disrespectful in some cultures to question authority or set boundaries with elders. In contrast, other cultures may strongly emphasize individual autonomy and self-expression. These cultural and social norms can shape a child’s understanding of boundaries and influence their ability to set them in relationships. (Hui & Ng, 2012). 

5.     Trauma and abuse: Children who experience trauma or abuse in early childhood may have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships. As a result, they may develop destructive patterns or extremely low self-esteem creating hindrances in relationship boundaries. (Herman, 1992).

The different types of boundaries

There are different types of boundaries that are needed to support safety, trust, and connection in our relationships.

  • Physical boundaries: Physical boundaries refer to limits around personal space and touch. A person may have a physical boundary around hugging or touching and may feel uncomfortable if those boundaries are crossed without their consent. (McLeod, 2021)
  • Emotional boundaries: Emotional boundaries refer to limits around emotional intimacy and sharing. A person may have an emotional boundary around discussing personal feelings or feel uncomfortable if their partner shares too much about their personal life. (Henry, 2018).
  • Time boundaries: Time boundaries refer to limits around how much time a person spends with their partner or how much time they need for themselves. A person may have a time boundary around spending weekends alone or feel overwhelmed if their partner demands too much time. (Martin, 2020).
  • Sexual boundaries: Sexual boundaries refer to limits around sexual intimacy and activity. A person may have a sexual boundary around certain sexual acts or feel uncomfortable if their partner pressures them into sexual activity. (Martin, 2020). 
  • Material boundaries refer to limits around sharing material possessions or money. A person may have a material boundary around lending money or feel uncomfortable if their partner takes or uses their belongings without permission. (Martin, 2020).
  • Intellectual boundaries: Intellectual boundaries refer to limits around sharing opinions, ideas, or beliefs. People may have an intellectual boundary around discussing specific topics or feel uncomfortable if their partner tries to change their beliefs or values. (Cutrona & Russell 1990). 
Setting Healthy Boundaries

Identifying and validating boundaries is an important process in maintaining healthy relationships. Here are a few steps that can help individuals identify and validate their boundaries:

1. Self-reflection: Reflect on your values, needs, and boundaries. What are the things that are important to you in relationships? What are the behaviors or actions that make you feel uncomfortable or violated? Understanding your needs and values is important in identifying and validating your boundaries.

Francine Shapiro, in his book “Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy (2012), explained the technique TICES logs, while journaling you should tabulate your triggers, the image that comes to your mind, the cognition or thought process behind the image and the emotion you must be feeling. Once you know your triggers, emotions, and thought patterns, you can reflect on and manage them. 

2. Pay attention People have different personalities; everyone radiates different energy. Our internal system is intuitive and may alert us to a person. Evaluate how you feel around different people. Do you get overwhelmed, misunderstood, loved, or energized? These emotional reactions can be an indication that your boundaries are being crossed. Allow people who make you feel good about yourself in your life.

For better understanding, you may listen to podcasts on relationships and boundaries: ‘Setting Boundaries in Relationships with Lindsay Puder’ (2018) and ‘Boundaries: The Most Important Element of a Healthy Relationship’ by Lindsay Puder and David Puder (2022).

3. Communicate your boundaries: Communicating clearly and assertively to others is essential. Unfortunately, many people misperceive that silence means you are okay with how they treat you. Or they may act naïve or gaslight you by blaming you for not directly communicating the boundary. For these reasons, a person must discuss a relationship’s dos and don’ts. Never feel guilty about putting yourself first.

Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs and be specific about the behaviors or actions that you find unacceptable. For example, “I feel uncomfortable when you touch me without my consent. If you think setting boundaries is an everyday challenge and are learning to prioritize yourself, read ‘Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day’ By Anne Katherine.

4. Validate your boundaries: Recognizing that they are valid and vital is essential. Remind yourself that it’s okay to set boundaries and that you have the right to protect your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. 

You may buy The Boundaries Journal (2022) by Jaime Reeves, which contains exercises, self-discovery prompts, and supporting materials. 

5. Respect the boundaries of those around you: It’s important to realize that every person has different boundaries; not everyone may be comfortable with the same verbal and nonverbal cues. Just as it’s essential to identify and validate your boundaries, it’s also important to respect others’ boundaries. 

You must be mindful of the change of emotions or behavior in different emotions. Even if they don’t verbally communicate the boundaries, recognizing them is the basic right. Instead of forcing them to explain, allow them to stay silent. Be empathetic and considerate about it. If you feel like you have violated it, immediately apologize. (Marie, 2022).

What to do if your boundaries are rejected? 

People often overstep or reject the boundaries. When someone threatens our boundaries, we must address them immediately instead of compensating, compromising, or ignoring them. Below are a few steps to take if your boundary has been rejected or ignored.

  1. Firstly, reiterate the importance of your boundaries; if someone rejects them, they may not understand why they are important to you. Take the time to explain why your boundaries matter and how they help you feel safe and respected.
  2. Secondly, be firm on it. Your boundaries are to protect you, and no one is allowed to disrespect them. If someone continues to disregard your boundaries after you’ve explained why they’re important, you may need to be firmer in enforcing them. Tell them you will not tolerate behaviors that violate your boundaries and be prepared to follow through on consequences if necessary.
  3. Thirdly, if someone continues to disregard your boundaries after you have confronted them, instead of compromising or accommodating, you may need to reevaluate the relationship. It is important to be in a relationship with someone who respects and honors your boundaries. As social beings, we thrive when we are in relationships that are healthy and harmonious; therefore if you find yourself in relationships that are continuously having negative effects on your wellness it is crucial to re-evaluate these relationships and make the needed changes. (Birch, 2018).

If you struggle with identifying and implementing boundaries in your relationships and you are starting to notice the negative effects on both yourself and your relationships, consider seeking professional help and guidance. This could mean seeing a therapist or seeking advice from a trusted friend or family member. At Serengeti, we can help you explore your relationships and identify the needed changes to create relationship harmony and overall wellness. If you would like to start this journey with us, you can book an online appointment at https://serengetiwellness.comm/. We provide both individual and couple’s therapy to clients who are 21 years and older in both Illinois and Florida.

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