Before getting into the topic of how to establish healthy boundaries, I share a reflection on boundaries relating to the period we are experiencing.
In this year we have been confined but, in my opinion, almost as an unconscious response to this, there has been a general encroachment. A physical limit has been imposed on us, in our homes, relationships, work and in many other respects, but the trespassing on other levels is very evident: there is no longer a boundary between private life and work. For example, with work moving online and the creation of WhatsApp and Facebook groups, there is no end of the working day and no beginning: there are posts, messages at all hours, even at midnight, on Saturdays and Sundays.
Or in group chats, dozens of messages a day, with photos on photos of whatever comes insight, without thinking that all this fills the memory of the cell phones of the other members of the group, not to mention the time one has to spend reading them. All ... because then surely you are not enrolled in a single group!
Or even very long daily voice messages from people who are in the queue and tell you things they dwell on before getting to the point. And then the intrusiveness of emails, offers, proposals…. what else?
Have We Ever Thought That All This Takes Our Time?
I believe that in this year the quality of entering people's lives with modesty has disappeared, almost on tiptoe so as not to disturb, respecting, in fact, the boundaries of the other.
They put limits on us, but in order not to feel cramped, we overflowed by breaking down other limits and trespassing on people's lives.
You are at work, focused on something you need to finish as soon as possible, and a colleague arrives who sits at your desk, interrupts you and tells you about his evening in detail, without considering your timid attempts to end the conversation to continue the conversation your work and finish it on time.
An acquaintance of yours comes to see you, and as if nothing had happened, opens the kitchen cupboard for you to get a glass: you are stunned because you think you don't have all that confidence and you feel invaded!
You are with a friend and the conversation turns to a topic you don't want to talk about; you mention it, but he continues undaunted.
Have You Ever Found Yourself In A Similar Situation? How Did You Feel?
These are small examples of invasion of a person's personal space: the colleague who tells his evening regardless of the fact that the other person is working is invading his space not taking into account his needs.
Borders help us establish our identity. They are a limit and a space between you and the other person; a clear place where you start and the other person ends, they say how far the other person can go and where he should stop so as not to invade you. It is through your borders that you affirm yourself: within your borders are your rules, what is good for you.
Through Your Borders Affirm Yourself
Borders protect your personal space and energy, are essential for healthy relationships and healthy life. This is why it is important to establish and maintain boundaries: having healthy boundaries means knowing yourself and understanding what your limits are.
Personal boundaries are physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational boundaries that define you as separate from others. Setting limits means that instead of assuming the beliefs, standards and feelings of others, you are in tune with what is yours, your beliefs, your feelings. Learning to develop a stronger sense of self helps you take control of what's important to you and make decisions that serve your value system.
When someone asks you to do something you don't have the time or the desire to do, say "Yes!" it is not having clear boundaries.
When you set healthy boundaries, you not only empower yourself, but you can also empower others to take responsibility and start solving their problems to help them access their inner strengths and move towards fulfilling their potential. Otherwise, they will continually seek answers and solutions outside of themselves, feeling incapable and powerless.
It is important to clarify that setting boundaries does not mean closing the door on people, but it does mean maintaining your identity, knowing who you are, what your needs are, knowing how far you can/want to go and how far others can go without invading you.
It often happens that we are unable to tell the other what our border is and this happens because we are afraid of being rejected. When the other invades us, we feel like victims and we get angry, unaware that the reason for our anger is precisely the invasion that basically we have allowed.
Borders Are a Form of Respect
When we know ourselves well, we can shift our boundaries according to the situation.
The unhealthy boundaries are often characterized by a weak sense of his identity and feeling unable to make decisions about their own lives. This leads us to rely on other people for decision-making responsibilities for which we ignore our boundaries to please the other, even if they ask too much and always, criticize, invade, control us and this bothers us. We do not know how to delimit it or even to delimit ourselves.
For example, there are no healthy boundaries in co-dependent relationships. The boundaries of the individual are removed, so much so that one sacrifices one's identity to obtain the external love and affection one craves by satisfying the needs and expectations of another. When you sacrifice your identity to meet another's expectations, you lose your sense of self along with your self-esteem.
Borders are a form of respect for oneself and for the other. When we don't respect ours, we allow others to overrun them and invade us; if it is we who do not respect those of the other, we are the ones who invade.
When the boundaries are not clear, there is always confusion about what our identity is, what is ours and what belongs to the other? There is no longer a personal space that becomes a space for "everyone".
Being aware of this leads us to strengthen our perimeter, even to enlarge it even more with people we feel are manipulative and who tend to take up a lot of space.
What are Our Borders?
We can set limits with physical space, thoughts, relationships, content, emotions, time.
The physical boundary is our personal space, our body, privacy. We feel invaded when someone physically gets too close when they want to know things about us that concern our privacy and that we would like to keep to ourselves, or when they do not respect 'our' things, objects and spaces that we feel ours. It is also our comfort zone with respect to how close a person can be in a relationship.
The mental borders are our opinions, our thoughts, what we believe and what we are convinced. We feel invaded when someone doesn't respect our thinking. Setting boundaries around inappropriate conversation topics that we aren't willing to talk about can ensure that you don't get drawn into unwanted conversations. If we know these boundaries well, we do not allow ourselves to be influenced by the thinking of others.
Let's go back to the colleague's example and see how to define a healthy boundary: instead of saying something shyly, say politely and assertively "I'd be happy to hear/help you, but I'm focused on this task now, I'll come to you when I'm done". This type of communication respects your time management and work effectiveness and allows you to be fully present when you listen to that colleague. This is why it is important to learn how to set healthy boundaries.
How to Set Healthy Boundaries
# 1. Clearly Identify What Your Boundaries Are?
The first step is to identify what your boundaries are: how far can the other go? Where should it stop? What is the line beyond which it cannot go? What are the basic needs and personal values for which I am willing to negotiate to satisfy the requests of the other?
For example, how much time am I willing to give, or how much money? How available am I? How much am I willing to tolerate? What behaviors am I willing to accept?
Consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you uncomfortable or stressed.
There are boundaries that are negotiable and others that are not. It is necessary to be very clear who both are in order to decide what to accept in the relationship with the other, what to consider as intolerable and indicative of the need to reconsider the balance.
#2. Clearly Communicate What Your Boundaries Are?
It is not enough to create boundaries. The second step is to communicate what your boundaries are.
Once you have communicated to the other in a clear, direct and simple way what your expectations and boundaries are, you must however remain consistent: you cannot say one thing and immediately move the boundary afterwards, otherwise, you would no longer be credible!
# 3. Decide What to Do If the Borders Are Invaded?
The third step is to take action if the other crosses the boundaries you imposed. First of all, it is important to assertively communicate when the other has crossed a limit. Doing nothing is tantamount to invalidating the communication you made previously. You can't have control over whether others respect your boundaries (this is up to them), but you can have control over how you act with respect to an invasion of your boundaries.
# 4. Learn to Say "NO"
It is not easy to say "no ". With "no" you establish and enforce your boundaries.
If you say "no" you may feel guilty because you feel you are not a good daughter or a good father, while saying "yes" feels emptied and exploited because you give in to satisfy the needs and expectations of others when inside you. You feel like you want to say "no", and this can cause a lot of stress.
It is important to learn to say "no" when necessary and to move away from situations that are not healthy.
Boundaries as we have seen do not only concern relationships, for example, it may be necessary to set boundaries also in the workplace understood as time. If the workday is eight hours a day, but colleagues remain at least 10 or 11, there is an implied expectation to go further in the working hours. But this means that "work time" borders on "lifetime" understood as time dedicated to family, to one's passions, to other things that are part of one's life. Saying “no” to this trespass also means recovering well-being by doing things that relax us.
In conclusion, borders are a skill that we refine as we know ourselves, who we are, what our needs and our feelings are. So setting healthy boundaries and enforcing them is nothing more than honouring yourself, being authentic and bringing out your voice and individuality.