There are several different types of boundaries that one can have. These include physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, digital, time, and even energy boundaries. All of these various categories, however, reinforce the same message—that you are important and deserve to be respected. Whether this is with respect to your body, your feelings, your time, your sexual preferences, or something else, you have a right to demand what you desire in an appropriate manner.
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Are You in Need?
If you’ve had the misfortune to receive messages from others stating that your needs are less important than theirs, you may find it difficult not only to know what your boundaries are, but also to convincingly communicate them. Oftentimes, we internalize these messages after being exposed to them over a long period of time, through different people who all seem to agree on our (low) worth. We may fear offending people, damaging relationships, or coming across as mean or selfish.
However, with practice, we can all learn (and must learn!) how to assert boundaries without aggression or guilt.
The most important work is to truly understand your own worth and believe in it before trying to convince someone else of it. Much advice you’ll see about setting boundaries focuses only on superficial changes, such as what specifically to say or do. But meekly saying “no” in a quiet voice with body language that suggests you don’t expect to be taken seriously will seldom work. To be calm and self-assured, to hold yourself with dignity, to speak confidently and clearly—these things are not possible without a genuine shift in the way you view yourself and the world.
In the chapters that remain, we’ll go a little deeper and explore not only the practical aspects of maintaining boundaries, but also what it means to have the self-worth and self-respect from which healthy boundaries emanate. Many of us have had poor early childhood experiences around needs, rights, and self-worth—but we can always learn!
By the time you’ve read this book, you should feel more comfortable and at home in your own value, able to identify your needs and limits, and know precisely how to communicate them to others in your life. You’ll learn to have better and more empowered relationships with others, but more than this, you will learn to feel more autonomous and secure within yourself.
The topic of boundaries is a deceptively simple one—though we can all grasp the concept intellectually, it takes immense self-knowledge and courage to practice the principles that inform truly healthy boundary-setting. Anybody can simply copy the behaviors of balanced, self-assured people, but readers of this book can expect to delve a little deeper and start to cultivate that strong sense of awareness, self-worth, and respect that makes good boundaries a natural and inevitable behavior.
We’ll look at many of the theories and models behind boundaries, but focus also on practical, real-world ways that you can start claiming and asserting your own boundaries, right now.
At the end of this book, you’ll be able to see clearly why the women in our opening examples experienced what they did, and how they could have done things differently—i.e., in a way that honored and respected their needs and limits. You’ll also start developing your own mental toolkit to help you better understand what you need for your well-being and exactly how to calmly ask for it from the world, confident in the expectation that your experience matters and deserves to be respected.
Unhealthy boundaries take a lifetime to develop; replacing them with better ones won’t happen overnight. But with some self-compassion, awareness, and an unshaken belief in your own worth as the marvelously unique human being that you are, you can begin to set up exactly those conditions in life that will most serve your happiness and success.
The process will undoubtedly involve much trial and error, but with enough persistence, you will eventually be successful at not only projecting a confident, self-assured personality, but also feeling the part yourself.
Personal boundaries are limits we place for ourselves and others in our interactions with others. They define the kinds of behavior that we are both comfortable and not comfortable with. However, the process of setting up boundaries can go awry if we choose boundaries that are either too harsh or too permeable. For instance, rejecting intimacy altogether is a sign of the former, while being too afraid to speak up for yourself is an example of the latter.
Asserting your boundaries can be a frightening and scary prospect, especially for those of us who have never done so before. We may be afraid of conflict, or terrified at the possibility of being disliked by others who might not agree with our boundaries. Despite the initial reluctance, it is nevertheless crucial for us to express and communicate with others things that are not acceptable to us. This helps us to develop a positive self-esteem and attract healthy relationships in our lives.
We tend to think that boundaries make us selfish, that we won’t be well-liked by others if we enforce them, or that it is somehow overly demanding of others. None of these are true. Learning how to create and maintain boundaries is an important skill that is useful for everyone.
There are many different reasons why so many of us have poor boundaries to begin with. One of the most common ones is suffering from childhood trauma, as this is where beliefs are formulated and solidified, for better or worse. Children who did not feel safe growing up or had their boundaries routinely violated are bound to internalize the lack of self-worth that others have projected onto them. Our cultures in general also tend to valorize sacrifice and martyrdom at the expense of personal happiness. Though we may have been disadvantaged in terms of learning about boundaries, it is nevertheless important to recognize that enforcing and communicating boundaries is solely our responsibility.