love yoself

Know your limits

Love yo self series part 3  

Line drawn on road, with shoes on either side

Boundaries. Something that is very important to me. Learning about boundaries was my light bulb moment in therapy.

Sometimes, we go through life, struggling, feeling hurt, suffering with depression and anxiety, and just not understanding why, or how to heal, or change situations so that we don’t feel these ways. And this was me, I had been in therapy for a while, and we had delved deep into my past, my relationships with all the people in my life, multiple diagnoses, and still we couldn’t figure out what was the issue. Until I sat in a lesson on boundaries.

I remember going, ag, I know what a boundary is. Until we started talking about the different kinds, about how we don’t hold our boundaries with others, but also with ourselves. Yes, you will always have people who encroach on your boundaries, or test them, but once you are in a habit of holding your boundaries, you can maintain the good mental health that comes from that, no matter what others do.

Circle with "your space" and circle with "their space" and the overlap labelled as boundary

What are boundaries

A boundary is what defines what a healthy interaction with other people is for you. It’s the outer limit for where you are comfortable in relation to others.

And they are scary, and when we first start exercising these, you can get a lot of resistance from others, especially from people who are not used to you having these boundaries. Also, it can feel uncomfortable to hold these boundaries, which is counterintuitive based on the definition, but it feels weird in the beginning so that you are comfortable in the future.

The benefits of boundaries outweigh the awkwardness you initially feel when setting them though. Benefits like improved self-esteem and relationships, conserved emotional energy, being able to grow and be vulnerable. Also, it’s key to remember that boundaries can be flexible, depending on the people or surroundings.

Types of boundaries

There are a lot of different boundaries that we can exercise, and that relate to different areas of our identities or our lives. Some of these categories, I’ve listed below

  • Physical/personal space: relating to your body and the contact people can have with you
  • Sexual: relating to your sexuality and what you are comfortable with
  • Intellectual: relating to your thoughts and opinions and what you do with them
  • Emotional: relating to how you feel and what you feel and feeling your feelings
  • Things/possessions: relating to what belongs to you and what you want to do with them
  • Financial: relating to how you spend your money and what you choose to do with it
  • Time/energy: relating to where and how you spend your time and what you do
  • Culture/religion/ethics: relating to your choice of beliefs that you want to follow
person drawing a circle around themselves with highlighter

How to set and maintain good boundaries

  1. Know your limits

One of the first steps in having boundaries, is knowing what they are. So start by defining your boundaries in terms of the different areas. You need to know what your boundaries are in order to protect them. Know up until which level you are comfortable, so that you can say to others that they are overstepping. Your boundaries can be defined according to your values, your personal beliefs, and what your gut generally tells you about what you feel comfortable with.

  • Be assertive

One of the things you will read most often when it comes to setting boundaries is to be assertive when you are setting your boundaries, or holding them. Be confident in what is important to you and what you believe about what makes you comfortable, no matter what category of boundary is being encroached. People may not understand and continue to encroach on your boundaries, however, it’s important that you stand your ground and remember why you need the boundary, and why you are communicating it.

  • Learn to say no

No is a full sentence. But when you have grown up, taught to be a “nice girl” and hence grew up to be a people pleaser, means you struggle to say no, and feel the need to always give a reason, to make people feel more comfortable. Holding boundaries, though, is about making sure you are comfortable and asserting what you need to feel secure in this world. It’s ok to say no.

How to boundary: say this: no.
  • Practice makes perfect

Holding boundaries is a skill, and if you grew up without boundaries, then you need to learn that skill. It takes a lot of practice, it’s not easy in the beginning, but don’t get disheartened, keep at it, because it’s taken people a lifetime of holding boundaries to get it right, and if you are starting in adulthood, you need to give yourself time to get it right. So keep going, the more practice you get, the better you’ll get at holding boundaries.

  • Get support

Reach out to supportive family and friends and, if you have access to, psychologists/psychiatrists/social workers for support in holding your boundaries, defining them, and perspective on if you are being too rigid because you are uncertain on how to have boundaries because you have never exercised them before.

Something we don’t often speak of is boundaries for others – other people have boundaries too, and if we have grown up without boundaries, we may have unknowingly encroached on the boundaries of others. So key things when trying to notice others asserting their boundaries are:

drawing of woman behind a fence
  1. Watch for cues

People will show you that they are feeling uncomfortable so look out for body language that suggests they are no longer comfortable with what you’re saying, how close you are. If they are consistently saying no, take no for an answer, if they are disengaged in the conversation and not saying anything or just nodding and using interjections like uh-huh, or hmmm, or I see, it’s possibly them giving an indication that they are no longer comfortable.

  • Be inclusive of neurodiverse behaviours

People who are neurodiverse can either have boundaries which are much looser, but also much stricter, and we need to take that into account. Sometimes they can become overwhelmed, or uncomfortable a lot quicker than others, so be aware of these moments, and we have to accept that there are many different people out there who have varying degrees of boundaries that we are not always going to understand.

  • Ask

When all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask people how they are feeling.

woman in a bubble with people crowding
Young woman sitting inside transparent glass bubble and crowd of people. Concept of separation from society, social isolation or solitude, unsocial person. Flat cartoon colorful vector illustration

I hope this has giving some clarity to boundaries, which are all over the internet and social media at the moment, but it’s not always clear of what it means to hold a boundary or the gravity of not having boundaries, and the impact on your mental health when you do eventually manage to assert your boundaries.