Setting strong personal boundaries is important in all aspects of life.
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A boundary is something that sets a border or limit. That border or limit can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. A boundary is not a ‘wall’ you put up to keep people out and is definitely not something you put in place to hide behind.
Physical boundaries refer to your body: your ability to control when and how others approach you, see you, or touch you.
Refusing a hug from someone you do not like is an example of setting a physical boundary, as is locking a door on your bedroom, shutting a curtain on your window, and building a fence between your home and your neighbour’s property.
Emotional boundaries have to do with your feelings: your ability to recognise, accept, and express your feelings, separate and distinct from those of others.
When your emotional boundaries are well-developed, you (not other family members or friends) are in charge of your own feelings, moods, and problems. You can be compassionate toward others without taking on their feelings or problems and making them your own.
Intellectual boundaries allow you to have your own thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and values.
You can speak for yourself, express your opinions, recognize ideas belonging to you, separate out ideas coming from other people or sources. When you assert your intellectual boundaries, you recognise and affirm your mental autonomy.
Spiritual boundaries refer to limits associated with your spiritual beliefs, customs, and values.
If your spirituality carries the belief that Sunday is a day of rest, you honour this spiritual boundary by refusing to work on this day of the week. If altruism and service to others are an integral part of your spirituality, your boundaries may include involvement in a large, extended family network or outreach to strangers in need.
Boundaries can be spoken or unspoken. Your actions, (walking away from a person who is insulting you) speak as loudly as your words (I won’t stand for this!). Both can be effective ways of communicating your boundaries.
The purpose of setting boundaries is to take care of yourself. Boundaries are ways to appropriately protect yourself, not create walls. Refusing to go rock climbing with friends when you are not properly trained for this sport can be a lifesaving boundary. Saying no to obligations that make you miserable or cause you unbearable stress are ways to protect your health, not isolate you from people.
Setting a boundary means you respect yourself. When you respect yourself, you protect yourself from inappropriate behaviour. For example, you do not get drunk at a staff party or make a fool of yourself with your boss. By protecting yourself in this way, your self-worth is likely to remain high or grow.
Boundaries should be clear, specific, reasonable, and enforceable. For example, you tell your boyfriend that you will go dancing with him at a local nightclub, but if he has more than one or two beers, you will drive the two of you home or take a taxi by yourself. Or you tell your son you will buy him a car, but he has to pay for his own car insurance, maintenance, and fuel.
In healthy relationships, people respect each other’s boundaries. Each person respects the needs, values, thoughts, and feelings of the other, regardless how they differ from their own. When respect is reciprocal, the self-worth of both people will probably increase.