Boundaries, What Are They? & How Important Are They?
The dictionary defines boundaries as "something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line.
During our discussion, I will use the term "invisible" boundary, referring to the boundary unknown to the other person. It also implies that the boundary exists within us. In this context, later, we will discuss the effects of crossing or violating these invisible boundaries.
According to Dr Faith Harper, there are different types of boundaries: Physical, Property, Sexual, Emotional-Relational, Intellectual and Spiritual boundaries that can be flexible, permeable or rigid boundaries.
Physical Boundaries are associated with the pragmatics of touch (when, where, how, who) and proximity between you and me.
Property Boundaries involve the material things you own or say are yours. The obvious are things you have bought, and if you lend the item to someone, it's your discussion to say when they return it. On the flip side, the invisible (physical) boundary could be when you decide, for example, in a meeting, you become annoyed because someone has sat in your chair that you claimed in your mind.
Sexual Boundaries encompass physical and emotional aspects of sex. Sexual boundaries are an essential aspect of knowing what is acceptable or unacceptable. That could be about language, ideas and information about sexuality. Dr Harper concludes, "Boundaries around sex are way bigger than the sexual acts we engage in."
Emotional-relational boundaries are crucial in ensuring that we show respect not only for ourselves but also for others. These boundaries are concerned with how we and others want to feel, and they allow us to acknowledge and respect other people's emotional experiences without minimising, dismissing, fixing, or taking responsibility for them. When we fail to set these boundaries, we become susceptible to co-dependency, unconsciously learning to behave in ways that lead to emotional enmeshment, rescuing, and appeasing, ultimately blurring the boundary line until it becomes invisible or non-existent. Pia Melody's book "Facing Co-dependency" is an excellent resource for understanding this phenomenon.
Dr. Harper says that intellectual Boundaries are about our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs and how they are respected. I also add respecting a person's intellectual limitations or abilities, not to undermine or discredit their viewpoint. She says it is also about our access to information, ideas and learning opportunities.
Spiritual boundaries refer to our personal belief systems and how we practice and share them with others. Spirituality is a deeply personal belief system that provides us with a sense of belonging, safety, security, and the freedom to practice as we see fit. Crossing spiritual boundaries means refusing, discriminating, or forcing someone to conform to our way of thinking or believing, thereby denying them their right to be independent.
In our experiences, our boundaries may have been crossed or violated, so consent is crucial; it validates our sense of self and affects our self-worth and self-esteem. The following discussion is fundamental for our well-being and to know ourselves by feeling the sensations in our bodies when consent has not been given or someone has crossed the invisible boundary. Pia Melody explains the invisible boundary as "internal boundaries (and external boundaries)."
Internal boundaries are when a person violates our emotional space when they try to convince, coerce, or change your mind to meet their needs without asking or considering your feelings or thoughts. The author Sara Hines Martin, in her book Shame on You! Help for Adults of Alcoholic and Other Shamed-Bound Families wrote examples of internal boundary violations.
Internal boundary violations:
Sharing secrets or things told to us in confidence (gossiping counts here)
Assuming the feelings of others
Considering the reasons for others' behaviour
Assuming others' thoughts
Asking others to justify their actions or viewpoints when neither impacts us
Asking personal questions outside of the depth of the relationship
Asking for inappropriate or excessive favours
Using racist or racially stereotyped language
Interrupting someone when they are talking
Indulging our desires at the expense or harm of another
Examples of external boundary violations:
Not cleaning up after one's mess
Not adhering to time agreements (being perpetually late or comfortably early)
Not returning or being late to return property (even if it was borrowed with consent)
Entering someone's living space without consent
Upon reviewing the list in the book, I realised that I had crossed people's internal boundaries, causing me to reflect on my behaviour and to be more conscious of the other person and my interpersonal dynamics. Taking the time to read and reflect, my personal boundaries can also be inconsistent. This inconsistency permits others to violate my boundaries, especially with internal ones, which are sometimes more permeable in relationships. Understanding the meaning of internal boundaries has helped me maintain boundaries, resulting in being assertive, authentic and present towards myself.
Integrating the understanding into my way of being, I can feel secure within myself, communicate my needs, voice my opinions, learn to trust myself, take my control back, and respect others' internal and external boundaries yields healthier relationships.
Setting boundaries is critical to asserting self-worth and self-esteem while protecting oneself with negotiation and flexibility in agreeable situations.
The difficulty in setting boundaries is not knowing or connecting to your body's sensations/feelings. One example stems from the impact of childhood trauma that can create a non-feeling internal state. Unfortunately, this non-existent state of being attracts dysfunctional relationships, rendering further trauma and abuse by others and towards yourself. When our boundaries are violated, it can be upsetting, confusing, and even harmful.
Healing the connection between mind and body will support feeling the boundary inside of you, then likely to be conscious of a boundary violation; it is your decision how to manage the interaction.
When setting boundaries with people, you may receive negative responses because their needs are no longer met, and you refuse to be manipulated. So, be assured you are doing the right thing for yourself despite their feedback. Boundaries are difficult to maintain with practice, and knowing your worth will get easier and eventually become natural.
Something else to remember: some individuals dislike boundaries and will try to undermine your thinking by dissipating your boundaries, which may result in rejection. In such cases, you may reconsider your relationship if they disregard or violate your boundaries.
In my book "Why We Make Bad Choices: The God's Labyrinth of Good and Evil", I discussed the integration of the false self and the abandonment of the authentic self. In this blog, you can think about how the false self is created by boundary violations and permeable or rigid boundaries that can lead to negative interpersonal and relational dynamics.
Food for Thought
How important are your boundaries? Does it help with your development of self-worth and self-esteem?
Now, understanding internal boundaries, are there certain boundaries you have been guilty of violating in the past and present?
The list is some examples of boundary violations from Sara Hines Martin’s book. Can you think of or notice any other that I have not mentioned?
Are internal boundaries challenging to maintain compared to external boundaries? If so, why?
Personal limits are an important way to communicate changing needs. These boundaries may not be visible, but they play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships. By respecting these boundaries, we can create a safe and trusting environment for ourselves and those around us. Remember to communicate your needs clearly and respectfully, while also being mindful of the needs of others. By doing so, we can build stronger connections and live more fulfilling lives.
Can you name your invisible boundary, for example, today between 7-8 pm is me time.
If you lack body sensation, you can intellectualise if a boundary has been violated by considering your values, ethics, or standards of how you want to be treated. Also, consider the consider the principles of self-worth and self-esteem. These could be a way to capture or learn how to set healthy boundaries.
The false self is enmeshed with permeable and rigid boundaries. Can you name how these types of boundaries act as a defence to avoid confrontation, assertiveness and being authentic to yourself?
 https://www.dictionary.com/browse/boundary  Faith G. Harper, Unfuck Your Boundaries: Build Better Relationships Through Content, Communication, and Expressing Your Needs. Microcosm Publishing; 2nd edition (2020)  “The true self refers to a sense of self based on authentic experience and the feeling of being truly present and alive. The false self is a defensive façade, behind which the person can feel empty, it’s behaviours being learnt and controlled rather than spontaneous and genuine.” https://theweekenduniversity.com/true-or-false-winnicotts-notions-self/#:~:text=The%20true%20self%20refers%20to,rather%20than%20spontaneous%20and%20genuine. Accessed 1st September 2023