Boundaries are like invisible fences that show where my property begins and where it ends. Boundaries show where my responsibility for me begins and where my responsibility for others ends. Boundaries show what I am responsible for and what I am not responsible for.
Boundaries are the limits we set in relationships. Boundaries help us protect ourselves and take care of ourselves. They help us keep the good in and the bad out of our relationships. Without good boundaries our relationships will always break down. It is impossible to have a good relationship without good boundaries.
Strong boundaries come from you having a good sense of your own self worth. Boundaries are flexible – they allow us to get close to others when appropriate and to keep our distance when we might be harmed by being too close.
Strong boundaries pave the way for us to achieve true intimacy with others. They help us take care of ourselves. People with high self esteem and strong boundaries have the best personal relationships.
Strong boundaries help us not to be at the mercy of another person's behaviour or problems. You will have to say “no” to a lot of things in your life. Having strong boundaries will help you do that.
Words and Consequences
The most common boundaries are the words we use. Our words define us. They tell others who we are, what we want, and what we don't want. Here are some examples: “Yes, I like that”, “No, I don't want to do that”, “No, I won't participate in that”, and “Yes, I want to be a part of that”. Our words, or lack of them, define ourselves to another person.
But sometimes others do not “get the message”. Words are not enough. Sometimes we need to give others a consequence to define an important boundary. Examples of consequences:
Cancelling a credit card, going ahead with dinner when a partner is late for the millionth time, ending an abusive conversation, and refusing to bail someone out of a jam caused by their own irresponsibility.
Healthy boundaries allow us to have healthy relationships. They lead to respect and appreciation for the other, and equality and intimacy because we are relating to each other as whole and complete people.
Learning to have strong boundaries is an exciting adventure but it is not always easy.
It means getting to know ourselves and increasing our awareness of what we stand for. It means self acceptance and knowing we are OK and deserve to be treated with respect by others. When we do this for ourselves and for others – happiness and harmony in our relationships becomes a reality.
Helen Rudinsky, MS, is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has been serving couples, individuals and children in the expat community worldwide since 1980.