Most of us have some sense of our own personal boundaries, however, for many of us, they are not always clearly defined. We often wait for a boundary of ours to be crossed before we even consciously realize what it is. At that point, a conflict within ourselves or with others has likely already begun.
Psychologist and life coach Dana Gionta, PhD defines healthy boundaries as, “knowing and understanding what your limits are.” Actively setting boundaries before they are infringed upon gives you the opportunity to live your life with the confidence of knowing exactly what you want, and what you will not tolerate. This practice also allows you to enjoy optimal physical, mental and emotional health.
Physical boundaries apply to many areas of life. It helps to know what you find acceptable and unacceptable in your relationship with food, your sleep habits, your level of physical activity, and your interactions with others, to name just a few topics.
To set boundaries in regards to your relationship with the food you eat, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself. Do I want to eat organic foods? Is this something that I will strictly adhere to, or are there situations where non-organic food is ok? How often is it acceptable for me to eat at restaurants?
What is my position on genetically modified organisms? Am I comfortable with consuming commercially-raised meats? What will I do if I am offered foods at a social function, or by my friends, that I am not normally comfortable eating?
These types of questions can also apply to your boundaries regarding sleep, exercise and interactions with others. Some questions you ask yourself may include: How much sleep do I need to properly function throughout the day? How can I ensure that I get the sleep I need, and what will I do if unexpected events interfere with my sleep?
Similarly: How much physical activity can I perform per day in order to feel healthy, but not push my body past its limits? What is my definition of personal space, and how close will I allow others to physically approach me? Your answer to this last question will likely depend on whether the person in question is a family member, romantic partner, close friend, acquaintance or stranger.
Mental and Emotional Boundaries
Setting mental and emotional boundaries is also critical to your health, and greatly involves your relationship with yourself. It is highly beneficial to have a clear picture of what your mental and emotional needs are.
For example, some people have certain topics that they are unwilling to discuss, for whatever reason. If you know what these topics are, you can let someone know, in clear terms, that you will not discuss them, as opposed to finding yourself in the middle of a conversation that you are uncomfortable with.
These may be topics that are painful to you, or bring up bad memories of the past, and it may be beneficial to someday explore them, but it must be at a time and in a way that you are comfortable with, in order for the exploration to do you any good. If you realize this about yourself, you can give yourself the respect to explore certain things on your own terms.
In regards to romantic relationships, it is crucial to set clear boundaries for yourself, and to make them known to your partner. For instance, some couples are perfectly comfortable having rather aggressive verbal discussions about their relationship issues. Other people do not function in these types of confrontations, and need a calm and relaxed space in which to work out a problem.
In order for something to be resolved, both partners need to be on the same page as to how to approach it. Having clearly defined boundaries and expectations can greatly aid in this process. You may have other boundary areas that are individual to you and your specific relationship, and figuring out what these are can often help stop a conflict before it begins.
Setting boundaries is a process of self-awareness and self-reflection. It may be greatly helpful to many people to make a list of some of the big ones. To begin, find some time in your day to focus solely on this process, so that you can give it your full attention. It may be a good idea to meditate for a few moments first, so that your mind is clear, alert and centered on the present moment.
Write down the major categories in which you would like to define your boundaries. Your list could break down into physical/mental/emotional sections, or you could be more specific, and categorize them into food/exercise/relationships, etc. Once you have your categories, begin making your list in each area that you have specified.
When you are done, take a few moments to relax, or meditate, before reading your list. This will allow your mind to refresh itself before you critique your work. You can then make whatever additions, subtractions or edits that you see fit. Keep your list in a safe place, so that you can refer to it if you need or want to. The simple act of writing your boundaries down can teach you a lot about yourself.
According to Dr. Gionata, discomfort and resentment are two key feelings that can let us know that our boundaries are being crossed. She says, “when someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a cue to us they may be violating or crossing a boundary.” This can also apply when you make a decision that is against your personal principles.
Knowing clearly what your boundaries are can help you zero in on exactly what is making you uncomfortable in an interaction, or in a dialogue with yourself. Having the ability to think critically about your boundaries is very freeing, and can alleviate a lot of stress.
Defining healthy, conscious boundaries for yourself can truly allow you to be the gatekeeper of your own life.
-The Atlernative Daily