Most of us are familiar with the concept of boundaries. Boundaries create limits, telling others how we want to be treated and what we are each responsible for. They create separation between ourselves and others, enabling us to maintain our individuality and values. However, it can be difficult to know what constitutes healthy boundaries.
Signs that our boundaries are too weak include being frequently overscheduled, busy and tired because we did not set limits – we often say “yes” to things we don’t want to do. We might be afraid of rejection, criticism, disapproval and conflict and these fears make it hard for us to assert our needs. In addition, we might accept blame for things that we did not do or could not control – a boundary makes it clear that we are responsible for our own actions, thoughts and feelings and not for what other people do.
On the other end of the continuum, are overly rigid boundaries. Signs that our boundaries may be too rigid include having inflexible rules about what we will and will not do; needing things to be done our way and to feel in control. We might have difficulty trusting and be quick to cut people out of our life. In addition, we might take things personally and build rigid boundaries to protect ourselves and end up feeling misunderstood and alone.
Healthy boundaries fall in between weak and rigid boundaries. They are assertive and clearly state what we need, which protects us from being mistreated or from overcommitting ourselves. We can say “no” without feeling guilty. Healthy boundaries are also flexible – we can loosen them when it is safe to do so which allows us to form meaningful relationships where we feel more deeply understood, accepted and appreciated.
It is common for people to vacillate between boundaries that are too weak and too rigid and not be able to find the middle ground. Boundaries can also vary in different circumstances or with different people.
So where do you feel you sit on the continuum? A Psychologist at Nurturing Minds can help you to explore where you are at and help you to establish healthier boundaries.
Written by Dr Barbara Haddon, Nurturing Minds Psychologist