Setting a well defined personal boundary is crucial to having a sound mental health.
Since our childhood we are taught that being nice to others is a virtue. It indeed is. But when does it become a burden on us? Being nice to other people should come naturally as part of humaneness but not at the cost of one’s own value system.
The seed of the problem is planted long ago, during our childhood and perpetuated ever since, across stages of our development. We are taught to associate acceptable behaviour towards others with having an appreciable character.
Being overly good to others might help fetch you a lot of admiration but when you prioritize others approval over your own needs and demands you have pretty much surrendered yourself to others.
When this approval seeking becomes a daily necessity for a person, he/she walks an extra mile to compromise his/her internal needs. Without even realizing it, the person starts to let people get the best of them and not knowing why he/she is getting none of it back.
You might keep wondering why people always take advantage out of you, ‘use you’, ‘take you for granted’ and never reciprocate what you deserve or desire from them. What you are oblivious of is that you need to create a strong personal boundary for yourself.
What is personal boundary?
Personal boundary can be defined as a set of guidelines, limits and rules that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.
To understand what boundaries are like, imagine the sign with “no trespassing” over your property – which is a clear message that if anyone crosses the boundary, the person has to face consequences.
The only difference between such boundaries and personal boundary is that the later is not concrete, cannot be seen, is dynamic and unique to individuals and hence is very difficult to communicate to others.
Personal boundaries help you decide what types of communication, behavior, and interactions are acceptable and which ones are not.
1. Physical boundaries:
Physical boundaries provide a barrier between you and an external intruding force, like a shield protects a person. Physical boundaries include your body, the idea of personal space, your sexual orientation and privacy. These boundaries are expressed through clothing, shelter, noise tolerance, verbal instructions, gestures, postures and body language.
An example of violation of physical boundary can be a close talker. When a person comes too uncomfortably close to you while talking might elicit an impulsive reaction of you stepping back to redefine your personal space. By doing so, you send this person a non-verbal message that you feel an invasion of your personal space. If he/she continues moving closer, you would verbally ask him/her to maintain physical distance from you.
2. Psychological boundary (emotional and intellectual boundary):
Psychological boundary involves a barrier between your own self and other people – how independent and separated your thoughts, emotions and value system is from others. These include one’s beliefs, behaviors, choices, ideals, sense of responsibility, preferences and your ability to be intimate with others.
Weak psychological boundaries can make a person highly vulnerable to being manipulated and controlled by other people, almost like a lifeless puppet. You might end up allowing yourself to be greatly affected by other’s thoughts, actions and feelings leaving you devastated, overwhelmed and broken.
Instances of psychological boundary violation:
- Not knowing how to separate one’s own feelings, thoughts, values and ideals from others.
- Allowing your feelings to be controlled by other people’s moods, behaviours and words.
- Compromising your dreams, goals and plans in order to satisfy others.
- Not taking responsibility for your own actions and mistakes.
- Blame shifting to other people for your own problems.
What is the need to set boundaries?
Boundaries are extremely important to protect yourself from being emotionally abused, misused or getting controlled by others. Understanding and knowing your personal boundary is crucial at so many different levels to promote mental health.
Our lives get increasingly difficult when we do not have a defined personal boundary to defend us from life’s complexities. We constantly keeps tolerating other people’s maltreatment just because we fail to value ourselves in a way that is not contingent on other people or the feelings they have toward us. All of these because of our vague sense of personal boundary.