Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is perhaps one of the smartest moves you can make for your overall sense of well-being. From finding the courage to say no, to assertively voicing your opinions, personal boundaries allow you to express your authenticity and prevent others from inflicting verbal or emotional abuse at the same time.

But the process of setting healthy boundaries goes far beyond assertiveness and emotional discipline. 

In fact, you must begin by gaining a better understanding of yourself so that you will know precisely what your limits are and how far you allow others to step inside your inner universe.

What Are Boundaries Exactly?

We call ‘personal boundaries’ any physical, emotional, or mental limits we set to protect ourselves from being manipulated, persuaded, or used by others. Learning to set healthy boundaries is an essential aspect of our self-concept, allowing us to nurture a positive self-image.

A personal boundary – be it physical, verbal, or emotional – is your way of telling others that you value authenticity and have zero tolerance for disrespect. Fortunately, there are numerous ways in which you can set clear and healthy boundaries.

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries define your personal space. They create an ‘invisible border’ between you and the people with whom you come in contact.

In fact, being mindful not to invade other people’s personal space is one of the essential rules that characterize our day-to-day social interactions.

Anthropologists and social psychologists believe our physical boundaries change depending on the social context and how close we fell to the other person. As a result, our personal space is divided into four ‘zones’ – intimate (1.5 ft or less), personal (4 ft), social (12 ft), and public (25 ft).

Verbal Boundaries

As one popular saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Unfortunately, reality often proves the exact opposite.

From insults to destructive criticism, language can inflict severe emotional damage, chipping away at our self-esteem and self-confidence. For that reason, it’s important to set strict verbal boundaries. That could mean having a zero-tolerance policy on slurs, knowing when to back out of a conversation, or even letting your conversation partner know that some topics may be too uncomfortable for you to handle.

Emotional Boundaries

While physical and verbal boundaries are mostly about protecting yourself from others’ negative influence, emotional boundaries cultivate a state of inner peace and balance.

But having solid emotional boundaries doesn’t mean avoiding or blocking unpleasant emotions. It’s not about ‘censoring’ your emotional reactions or worse, holding others entirely responsible for the less-pleasant emotions you might experience.  

Having healthy emotional boundaries means allowing yourself to experience the entire spectrum of human emotions without getting tangled up in them. It means riding the emotional rollercoaster knowing that you could get off whenever you want.

Basic Tips For Boundary Setting

As I told you earlier, the first step in setting healthy boundaries is self-exploration and self-discovery. It’s almost impossible to set personal boundaries in the absence of a better understanding of yourself.

Understanding Yourself

Although the idea of understanding yourself may sound a bit vague and overly general, various practices could help you achieve this. [1]

One way to understand who you are and what you truly need to achieve inner peace is by considering your past and present. Take a step back and try to look at your life as a journey – who you were, who you are, and who you plan to become.

Self-discovery will unveil your biggest strengths and weaknesses, thus giving you the opportunity to set healthy boundaries.

Finding Your Comfort Zone

In broad lines, the primary purpose of personal boundaries is to create a safe space that allows you to thrive and live life on your own terms.

Finding your comfort zone is all about paying attention to both your body and mind. Shift your focus towards your inner universe and see how you react in the company of other people. You will notice that while some people make you feel perfectly safe and comfortable, others might generate a sense of discomfort and awkwardness.

Even though finding your comfort zone will help you set healthy boundaries, remember not to get stuck in it for too long.

Assertiveness (Learning to Say No)

Assertiveness is perhaps one of the most important ingredients of any meaningful social interaction. Being able to express your beliefs and opinions in a respectful and non-threatening manner creates the premise for a pleasant exchange of ideas.

And the best part is that everyone can do it. All you need to do is (1) avoid offensive language and (2) let others know that what you’re about to share is merely an opinion, not the universal truth.

Separating Yourself From Others

Most of the times, the reason why we fail to impose healthy boundaries is that we’re too preoccupied with how others see us. We give up on our beliefs, values, and dreams, in exchange for sympathy, admiration, and approval.

Separating yourself from others means becoming emotionally independent. It means detaching yourself from other people’s views, thus giving plenty of room for personal expression. [2]

Professional Boundaries

Professional boundaries can have a significant impact on our overall sense of health and well-being. When you spend most of your day at the office and rarely get to do something fun with your friends, family, or significant other, the need for professional boundaries should become a top priority.

Some good examples of professional boundaries include keeping a balance between your personal and professional life or developing solid work ethics.

Relationship Boundaries

For many of us, a romantic relationship represents the most intimate form of interaction. We exchange ideas, share feelings, and expose our most vulnerable side, in a safe and comforting space.

There are also those who believe that independence in a relationship means ‘playing it cool,’ keeping secrets (for the sake of the relationship), and making separate decisions about each other’s lives.

But a genuinely healthy relationship depends on the partners’ willingness to respect each other’s independence and encourage the kind of boundaries that preserve individuality and uniqueness. 

Overall, setting healthy boundaries relies on self-discovery, self-respect, and the courage to express your unique personality, regardless of what others have to say.   

References:

[1] M. Tartakovsky, “10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries,” Psych Central, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/.

[2] A. Brenner, “7 Tips to Create Healthy Boundaries with Others,” Psychology Today, 21 November 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201511/7-tips-create-healthy-boundaries-others.

Meta description: Setting healthy boundaries is one of the smartest things you can do for your personal, professional, and social well-being.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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