Define Who You Are: Understand Your Boundaries In Relationships

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When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”
-Brene’ Brown

What are Boundaries? (2 Types)

Boundaries are the imaginary lines we draw around ourselves to maintain balance and protect our bodies, minds, emotions, and time from the behavior or demands of life. When something or someone has clear boundaries, their values and identities are clear. Not having boundaries leads to a lack of self and we often look to others to find meaning.

Strong boundaries- These are identifiable and concrete, yet flexible. They allow us to get close to others when it is appropriate and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed by getting too close. Good boundaries protect us from abuse and pave the way to achieving true intimacy. People have a sense of security around their needs and express them in an assertive manner.

Weak boundaries- These occur when your put others’ needs ahead of your own. You do not know how to say no and often sacrifice who you are for the approval, love and attention of others. People with weak boundaries fall into co-dependent relationships.

What Types Are There?

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Physical boundaries & Sexual boundaries- This is the physical space you allow or deny others into. People refer to this as their personal “bubble.” You may have overly weak or strong physical boundaries if you were physically abused as a child growing up.

Example- Locking your door to your room or refusing to allow someone to kiss you.

Emotional & Relational Boundaries- These are your ability to recognize and accept your emotions separately from others. These boundaries define the SELF. Having strong emotional boundaries leads to compassionate understanding WITHOUT taking responsibility for others’ feelings. Weak emotional boundaries lead to co-dependence.

Strong emotional boundaries lead to identifiable values. You are able to have your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You should know your clear role as a son, father, boyfriend and employee. If someone tries to tell you what to think and believe, you recognize this and speak up to establish your boundary

Why Should We Have Them?

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They Define Our Values- Values are constructed from a mix of conclusions, opinions, attitudes, past experience layered in a hierarchy, reflecting all the successive envelopes of the biological and social status of the person from the most primitive to the most advanced.

Personal values and boundaries operate in two directions, affecting both the incoming and outgoing interactions between people. These are sometimes referred to as the ‘protection’ and ‘containment’ functions.

A functional relationship is when your boundaries are strong and yet flexible enough to allow yourself to take care of your own needs and those of others simultaneously. There is mutual respect with both partners and you are able to live your life in a way that maximizes both you and your partner’s full potentials. Healthy boundaries foster intimacy and commitment to form and grow.>

Sympathy and compassion are worthy qualities, but they are not to be confused with love, especially when boundaries have become distorted. Healthy boundaries lead to respect for the other and equality in a relationship, an appreciation for the aliveness and strength of the other person, and a mutual flow of feelings between the two partners.

How Do We Express & Improve Them?

It is never too late to set your boundaries. Here are three steps on how to improve your boundaries if they are weak

1. Identify previous boundary violations (trauma).

You may have been abused as a child or neglected. You may have had a co-dependent relationships with a partner or family member. Think if there was a time in your life where someone put their needs ahead of your own. Try and reflect to see if that event causes you to over-react to similar events. Learning your emotional schema may also help with this.

2. Increase Your Self-Awareness

To do this, try and meditate. Learn what you value and how you feel. Understanding yourself more completely will help you know where your boundaries lie.

3. Examine Your current Boundaries

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Before you change your boundaries, you have to know where they are currently at. Start noticing your interactions with others. Are you co-dependent or overly distant?

Exercise to build awareness: Jot down in notebook every time your opinion differs from the person you are with, and joy down what your opinion is.

Saying no when you mean yes or yes when you mean no.

Feeling guilty when you do say no.

Acting against your integrity or values in order to please.

Not speaking up when you have something to say.

Adopting another person’s beliefs or ideas so you are accepted.

Not calling out someone who mistreats you. Accepting physical touch or sex when you don’t want it. Allowing yourself to be interrupted or distracted to accommodate another person’s immediate wants or needs. Giving too much just to be perceived as useful. Becoming overly involved in someone’s problems or difficulties. Allowing people to say things to you or in front of you that make you uncomfortable. Not defining and communicating your emotional needs in your closest relationships.

When you have weak personal boundaries, every act of compliance, self-denial, or neediness chips away at your self-respect and the respect that others have for you. You are in a constant state of insecurity.

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” -Joan Didion

Make a list of what you will never tolerate again in your life.

3. How would you like to strengthen boundaries in various areas of your life?

I want to strengthen my boundaries around health by ___________.

I want to strengthen my boundaries around finances by ___________.

I want to strengthen my boundaries around relationships by ___________.

I want to strengthen my boundaries around fun by ___________.

I want to strengthen my boundaries around ________ by ___________.

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