“Don’t cross the line” is something that isn’t unheard of in today’s ever-changing world when we’re all attempting to keep up with each other, ourselves, and evolving trends in relationships, culture, and fashion. This is the ‘line’ that separates ‘us’ from ‘them’ and protects an individual’s integrity. This ‘line’ represents boundaries, which define our edges and creates a safe space where we are able to be our authentic selves. Boundaries have the power to anchor us yet, also set us free. So, we got in touch with Manya Krishna, a Clinical Psychologist at The Mood Space to understand more about boundaries and how they help us. Here’s what she had to say:

Personal boundaries, according to the University Health Service of the University of California, Berkeley, ‘are the limits and guidelines we set for ourselves within relationships.’ There are different types of personal boundaries:

1. Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries comprise of need for personal space, and physical needs such as water, food, and rest. Physical boundaries also lay limits for comfort with touch.

2. Intellectual Boundaries

Intellectual boundaries entail thoughts, ideas, and curiosity. Healthy intellectual boundaries involve respecting and creating space for an individual’s thoughts, ideas, and curiosity.

3. Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries comprise respecting and honoring emotions, energy and feelings.

4. Sexual Boundaries

Consent, agreement, respect, awareness of preferences and desires, and privacy comprise what healthy sexual boundaries encompass.

5. Material Boundaries

Material boundaries refer to having limits on how material items and personal possessions are used by others.

6. Time boundaries

Setting time boundaries entails recognizing priorities and allocating enough time to the various aspects of life.

The University Health Service of the University of California, Berkeley explains how personal boundaries can range from porous to rigid to healthy. Here are some of them explained:

1. Porous

If you have porous boundaries then you frequently indulge in overextending yourself. It can involve helping your friend with her project, even though that might involve missing your own deadline. Or it can take the form of feeling excessively guilty every time you aren’t able to be there for your partner and an attempt to always be available.

If you have porous boundaries you may have difficulties expressing your needs, and expectations and setting limits. Overextending yourself can thereby lead to feeling a sense of exhaustion.

Porous boundaries may be characterized by: 

  • People pleasing
  • Over sharing
  • Co-dependency
  • Enmeshment
  • Excessive reliance on feedback from others

2. Rigid

Rigid boundaries involve building walls in an attempt to keep oneself safe. If you have rigid boundaries then it may lead to distance and gaps in interpersonal relationships. You may always try to keep yourself protected by not getting too involved, by not sharing much and you may even fear intimacy in general.

Rigid boundaries may be characterized by : 

  • Having high expectations
  • Being guarded
  • Avoiding intimacy
  • Inability to ask for help
  • Cutting people out

3. Healthy 

Healthy boundaries involve clear communication of one’s needs and expectations. If you have healthy boundaries then you most likely engage in open channel communication. It can take the form of openly expressing your needs and expectations. People who have healthy boundaries are assertive and know where to draw a line. We all have that friend we bank upon when there’s a mess up with our order at a restaurant, don’t we? This friend is assertive and most likely has these healthy boundaries in place.

They may be characterized by:

  • Clarity about values
  • Comfortable saying “no”
  • Having vulnerability with people who have earned the trust
  • Keeping expectations in check

As individuals, we all somewhere struggle to set these healthy boundaries in our day-to-day lives. Multiple factors can contribute to our inability to set these boundaries. We may be afraid of disappointing others, of not being accepted, and negative emotions such as guilt and shame may also prevent us from setting these boundaries. Owing to our past experiences with our families, friends, or partners, we may develop the habit of not putting ourselves first.

However, failing to set these healthy boundaries can result in burnout, avoidance, dependence, and unrealistic expectations from others.

4. Burnout

Burnout according to Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski is caused by stress, which they define as “the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter stressors.” 

If you are undergoing burnout then you might feel constantly overwhelmed, which further results in irritability, moodiness, procrastination, and avoidance of duties.

Nedra Tawwab in her book titled ‘Set Boundaries, Find Peace’ has enlisted causal factors resulting in burnout, which are as follows:

  • Inability to recognize when to say “no”
  • People-pleasing
  • Superhero syndrome (“I can do it all”)
  • Prioritizing others over self
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Not being rewarded and appreciated for efforts that one makes

5. Avoidance 

Avoidance is a fear-driven reaction. It ultimately comes down to not showing up for yourself. If you avoid things frequently, you may develop a passive-aggressive way of expressing your dissatisfaction with them. 

For example, if you find a friend to be disrespectful to you, instead of communicating this to them, you decide not to see them for a while and do not attend their birthday party. We may avoid our loved ones because we are afraid of being misunderstood, judged, and left alone so we struggle to communicate our boundaries to them.

Excessive avoidance is indicated by fleeting thoughts such as—”I wish I could leave everything and get away.”

Avoidance can take the form of spending days alone, ignoring calls, or hiding. However, the only practical answer is to set boundaries.

6. Dependence

Dependence is characterized by a sense of helplessness without the other person. It may entail constantly seeking advice, support, and comfort from others. If you are dependent on your loved one or vice versa, there is no room for boundaries in your relationships. 

Dependence on a loved one can include needing their constant support and seeking their advice on every small and large decision. Dependence frequently leaves no room for personal growth in relationships because both individuals involved in the relationship are constantly trying to meet each other’s needs while putting their own needs on the back burner.

7. Higher Expectations From Others

When we prioritize others over ourselves, we may also develop high expectations from them. When we go out of our way to fulfill the needs of others, we might develop an expectation of them doing the same for us. And when these expectations are not met, it can result in negative emotions such as feeling anger, resentment, and sadness.

It’s evident that there remains a need for all of us to draw these lines called boundaries in our life. These boundaries don’t just help us take a stand for ourselves but also help enhance the quality of our relationships as these boundaries provide us with a space to express our needs, desires, and expectations.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries can be set by communication and action. Verbally communicating one’s needs, expectations and values are step one. Assertive statements are the most effective way to do so. The conversation is only the beginning of the process. You must follow through on what you say with your actions. For instance, if you need more space in your relationship and time to pursue your hobbies and other interests. The first step would involve communicating this to your partner, the next step could involve joining a hobby class and devoting your time to your hobbies as well. Setting boundaries will be challenging in the beginning but as you get into the practice of setting healthy boundaries, just like any other life skill it would get easier and better.

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