Personal Boundaries 101: What, Why & How

[3-Minute Read + Video] Personal boundaries feel like a fortress around my self-worth, shielding it from corrosive forces that once devoured it.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

Personal Boundaries 101: What, Why & How

Personal boundaries feel like a fortress around my self-worth, shielding it from corrosive forces that once devoured it.

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VIDEO: Quick Take – Personal Boundaries 101

A recent incident reminded me of how far I’ve come in maintaining personal boundaries. Tensions were high between two close friends during a disagreement. Each thought they were right and turned to me for confirmation.

In the past, I would have felt the need to appease and validate both of them, to do whatever was required to meet their standard of being a good friend.

But now, I understand that responding in that way harms everyone. I chose a different path and enforced a personal boundary.

What Are Personal Boundaries?

Imagine personal boundaries as an invisible barrier between yourself and the outside world. They serve as a protective fence, preventing external influences from penetrating the innermost parts of your being. 

We form these boundaries by establishing rules for how we let others interact with us. Boundaries can be physical, psychological, material and spiritual.

For instance, I maintain strict boundaries around physical touch with strangers. I do not appreciate hugs from people I don’t know and will step away if it happens. But, I am comfortable offering a handshake instead.

On a psychological level, I refuse to engage with people who have harmful intentions. In such situations, I may disengage from the conversation, or walk away.

I also set boundaries for what I expose myself to before bedtime. If browsing through a TV guide, I avoid violent or morbid shows. I do not want those images to linger in my mind as I try to sleep.

Why Set Personal Boundaries?

Excessive stress, anxiety and fear are the hallmarks of weak personal boundaries.

The repercussions of not setting boundaries are all too familiar for those who identify as people-pleasers. People-pleasers prioritise others’ happiness over their own needs. This depletes their self-worth and, in chronic cases, leads to a loss of personal identity.

Whereas, setting and maintaining a personal boundary builds self-esteem. It sends a message deep into your psyche that you’re worthy of protection and nurturing. That empowers you to relax and feel safe regardless of what’s unfolding in your world.

Setting personal boundaries also has flow-on effects on the people around you. They enable you to act with clarity and certainty and that instils trust in your relationships. People may not always like what you say and do but they can trust your consistency and integrity.

Other people also get to see healthy self-esteem in action when you enforce a personal boundary. That gives them the opportunity to grow and create their own space.

PHOTO: My shadow as I looked into a crevasse when climbing El Pisco, Peru 5300mm above sea level. Like personal boundaries, ground that was once firm can become treacherous.

How To Set Personal Boundaries

I’ve learned a few tips and tricks over the years that have increased my success rate with personal boundaries.

  • When interactions with others leave me drained, anxious or stressed, I write about it in my journal to nurture my self-esteem. 
  • I reflect on how the incident aligned with my values and challenge any negative thoughts about myself.
  • I also consider the source and usefulness of a boundary and practice asserting myself in future scenarios. I share how I do this in Have You Seen Guilt’s Good Side?
  • If I feel pressured to compromise a boundary, I stop the interaction. I will remove myself or use a buffer phrase like “I’ll think about that and come back to you.”
  • I have a tolerance for breaching boundaries, and it varies depending on the situation and the people involved. I consciously consider those tolerance levels rather than purely responding to a situation’s emotion.
  • Remember that your boundaries may change as your values, perspective, and path in life change. Don’t become stuck on a boundary that may have served you well in the past. It could restrict the growth of your self-esteem instead of protecting it.
  • I don’t take it personally when people get upset about me enforcing a boundary. Often my actions are holding a mirror to their own and they don’t like what they see. I accept they are responding from a place of pain or fear and I let their words float straight past me.

I’ve noticed a huge shift in my happiness and the confidence of others since I started maintaining personal boundaries.

It’s not always easy; there are moments when doubt and uncertainty creep in. But with each boundary that I’ve set and honoured, I’ve become more confident about who I am and what I value.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

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