Have you ever felt like a pushover? Do others seem to get the better of you? Are you in a relationship filled with conflict? Does it feel like you are getting emotionally (or physically) pushed around? Is there someone in your life seemingly playing “head games” with you? Are certain people critical of you or your work and you struggle with how to handle or work with them? Are you trying so hard to please others that no one seems to be pleased? Do you find yourself closing others off around you? Do you have a fear of getting hurt again? Do certain types of people rub you the wrong way? Have you tried setting boundaries only to find others ignoring them? Do you find yourself either getting angry or depressed because your voice isn’t heard?

You are not alone. We have listened to many many stories where our clients have struggled just like you in setting boundaries with other people in their lives like spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, exes, exes family members, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, other family members, co-workers, etc.  If you are feeling stuck, confused, not sure where to go or what to do, we can help. We are counselors dedicated in serving our clients because we truly care about your well-being. We express empathy and understanding that each of our clients are worthwhile and that their story matters. The power of your story with learning and applying boundaries will help.

First, let’s define boundaries then next their purpose, value, how to set them and ways of putting them to use. This isn’t intended to be exhaustive but a good step in a positive and healthy direction.

What is a boundary?

A boundary is a barrier, limit, marker or line that distinguishes, defines or separates one space from another. It is a distinction of what is mine and what is yours. It gives recognition to personal responsibility.  As the old saying goes, “Fences make good neighbors”. It is setting limits of what is acceptable to you and what is not acceptable in terms of interacting with others. Let’s take a look at some different types of boundaries that you can set in your life.

The types of boundaries can be physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and sexual.  Physical boundaries are boundaries of the body such as various forms of touching (whether handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, high fives, etc.) as well as how the touch is delivered (whether gentle, strong, harsh, slap, hit, push, etc.).  Personal space is also part of physical boundaries. It’s like an invisible bubble all around you. For example, when in conversation with someone you know, your personal space may be a little closer in proximity than with someone you just met. Also, when you stand in line at the bank, shop at the grocery store, when you stand in line at a concert, or when you are in a sit down meeting with others.  Sometimes these spaces may vary in distances as well as with various or certain individuals.

Mental and emotional boundaries may be distinct or one in the same. They are hard to define yet may coincide with what and how messages are delivered and received. For example, there may be times when someone whistles at you, or makes an awkward comment, or when someone harshly criticizes your work, or when you give or receive a compliment, when someone makes a demand or exerts unrealistic expectations on you, seeking or giving approval of others, etc. Mental and emotional boundaries are seemingly quite different for each person as well as different for you given the time, place, person and circumstance.

Social boundaries have to do with interactions in social situations such as with your neighbors, people at the grocery or department store, at parties, sporting events, driving on the road, etc. Social boundaries may include showing respect to your fellow man/woman, being polite, saying “please” and “thank you”, being alert of those around you and what situations may be going on around you, and as the old saying goes, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  This may be part of making your presence known in a kind, possibly firm yet respectful manner and appreciating others’ social “space” or boundaries as well.

Spiritual boundaries may be vague to define or understand. They are vague for some and very clear for others since the term “spiritual” may be difficult to grasp. We may see spirituality as one’s faith in God or Higher Power with beliefs, values, and a lifestyle of how and why one lives his / her own life. This is either based on a traditional set of beliefs established over eras of time or a varied interpretation of one or several spiritual doctrines or “religions”. It seems everyone has a spiritual or religious perspective about quite a number of things including how to live life. Spiritual boundaries are a form of spiritual protection where you exercise the freedom of choice in what you believe, why you believe it, and how you exercise your beliefs while respecting others in their beliefs.  This does not mean we don’t have conversations about our beliefs or listen to other people’s perspectives but rather recognize how spirituality is an important aspect of our lives.

Sexual boundaries are specific to sensuality, intimacy and sexuality with respect to your body in relationship with another or others.  Being honest with yourself as you define what your sexual boundaries are and being clear with another what they are will help empower you to stick with the boundaries.

Purpose and value of boundaries

Boundaries help define your space for safety, self-preservation, and respect. They also help keep us in check. Boundaries show us that we are responsible for our own lives and if there are things we need to address (such as sadness, anxiety, holding onto grudges, having unforgiveness, anger, past hurts, and so on) we may do so. There are times when we need alone time or privacy while others are “pressing” into our space or time. Getting that time alone to recharge, to pause and reflect is a form of self-care. This helps you to gain and improve a good, healthy sense of self and well-being.

How to set boundaries

Clearly define what your boundaries are for you. What are you comfortable with in terms of your boundaries? Let your boundaries be known. Voice your boundaries. Be firm yet respectful (also known as assertive), be responsible for you and be clear and also open to other people’s boundaries.

Know thyself – This may be simple yet difficult for you as you may struggle with who you are or have low self-esteem. The more you learn about yourself, your choices (of friends, jobs, etc.), the reason/s behind your choices, and what matters to you then boundaries become clearer. As you understand yourself more and know more of why you are setting limits, the more confidence you will have in holding to them.

Be assertive – This is asking for what you want in terms of your time and space. Having the right to say “no” to unreasonable requests or demands. To be able and willing to stand up for yourself, to think and feel for yourself and asking others to do the same for themselves. Stick to it.

Practice self-responsibility – This is when you put into action the value and importance of being you while respecting others even if/when they may not be toward you. It also is being an advocate for yourself for better health, better attitude, and better choices in self-care.

When boundaries are challenged

First, recognize what boundary was challenged, by who, when, where, how, and to what extent. Part of this is learning to “pick your battles” as it were. Be selective, yet flexible as you practice setting and holding to your boundaries.  Invite change from the other person.

If you struggle with setting and holding to boundaries or find yourself feeling low self-confidence, give us a call or send us an email. We’d love to sit down with you and help you through these times. Call 520-292-9750 or email joel@pathwaystucson.com.