A boundary is a border, outer limit, or perimeter: an enclosure or fortification.
A personal boundary is a metaphorical term to describe your emotional borders—what makes you feel comfortable or uncomfortable around others, and how you react to this discomfort.
“Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.” Essential life skills
We usually refer to someone’s boundaries as weak or strong. “Oh, she has really strong boundaries. Nobody messes with her!” Or we might say, “Her boundaries are weak and she doesn’t enforce them. She lets him walk all over her.”
We also know when someone has trespassed our boundaries. It feels awkward, uncomfortable, confusing, and we have a sense of being violated.
Having strong boundaries is crucial to your emotional safety. You need your boundaries to be strong enough to protect your feelings and sensibilities—your sense of what’s right and wrong and whether you are receiving the respect and validation you feel you deserve.
I like to think of a boundary as a kind of psychological fence I have around myself. It’s there to protect me. I want the fence high and strong enough to keep bad stuff out of my life, but not so high I keep everyone out and become isolated. We all know people who ‘won’t let anyone in’, or who don’t let anyone get close to them. Most of us don’t want that. That’s boundary imbalance.
If your fences are too high and strong and you enforce them too vigorously, you can appear arrogant, intolerant, scary, and rigid. Or you might come across as overly sensitive and thin-skinned. And you may end up alone because nobody can get in.
It’s all about balance.
Different Folks, Different Strokes—Our Boundaries Vary
And here’s another observation; we have different boundaries with everyone we have contact with. Your boundaries will be different with someone you meet on the street, or at a charity boardroom meeting, than with your children and friends.
However—take care! We may have different boundaries with different people, but we should always respect the boundaries of others, no matter who they are.
I have some friends who can say almost anything to me and I won’t take offense. I know them and trust them. Ditto with my grown up kids. I let them in very close. On the other hand, as their mother, I’m careful to respect their boundaries and I try not to interfere in their lives or give unsolicited advice. I want them to like having me around, and unsolicited advice will guarantee that won’t happen.
Marriages and relationships more than not break down because of boundary violations. Someone feels disrespected; it festers and causes resentment.
I cannot tell you how many clients and friends I know, who complain that their relationships with children and other family members are not good. This causes a lot of unnecessary heartache and grief.
On close questioning and examination, it becomes clear that what is going wrong has to do with differing expectations about boundaries. Just because it’s your child—who is now a fully-fledged adult—it doesn’t mean you have the right, or that it’s a good idea to criticize their choices or tell them how to live their lives. It won’t be appreciated.
It’s never a good idea to trample on anyone’s boundaries.
Criticism is the Ultimate Boundary Stomper
Don’t do it. Ever.
Even the most well-intentioned criticism is the act of passing judgment; censure; faultfinding.
I repeat: Don’t do it. Ever. Make it an ironclad rule in your life, and it will serve you well. Just like gossip, you will never regret NOT criticizing someone, but boy can you regret the careless negative remark that will dog both of you the rest of your days.
Nobody ever forgets criticism. It’s a fact of life.
On the other hand, when you help people feel good about themselves, the choices they are making, and how they are living their lives, they will want you around. You are strengthening their boundaries. We all like to feel good.
Excerpt from Artful Assertiveness Skills for Women: How to be Calm, Confident, & in Control by Margaret Nash, soon to be available on Kindle and in paperback.
Check out Margaret’s already published five star ranked self-help books.