What Are Boundaries? And How to Define Yours

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Welcome to TalkRx with Doctor Neha. Several people have been asking me in different ways to talk about boundaries. What are they? What are healthy boundaries? Are they different in different situations? The answer is yes. I started to think about boundaries based on the questions I’ve been hearing.

There are different kinds of boundaries. There are physical boundaries, like those that are delineated on a map and separate countries. This is our side of the line, and that is yours. Also people put up gates outside or fence in their part of their yard. Sometimes people post signs that say, “No trespassing. Prosecutors will be violated.” Now, our body is also a physical boundary. Our skin is the physical boundary that contains our own body. Physical boundaries also exist in romantic or family relationships, who’s allowed to put their arm around you and who is not, who’s allowed to kiss you on the cheek versus who’s allowed to kiss you on the lips (knowing with whom that is okay and with whom it doesn’t feel okay).

Mental boundaries are topics that are okay to have in a certain setting, such as at the family dinner table, versus which topics we don’t touch. “Oh, you know, Aunt Rose, we never talk about politics or religion in front of her.” Many people have unspoken, unwritten boundaries that others follow. When you know which topics are okay or not okay, those become mental boundaries.

Emotional boundaries a lot of times come up in love: whom I’m willing to share my heart with or give love to or from whom do I need to protect myself. Emotional boundaries are also rules such as it’s okay to feel joy but it’s not okay to feel pain or disappointment.

Social boundaries are topics such as whom you’ll go out to dinner with alone, from whom you will take phone calls, or what situations feel safe, nurturing, and connected for you.

There are also spiritual boundaries—someone’s openness to discuss the different ways that people feel connected to something bigger than themselves. That can be religion or spirituality or a number of ways that people feel connected to something bigger. In Bali, I’m finding that my spiritual boundaries are more open. There’s incense and offerings everywhere. I’m finding myself quite open and curious about the Balinese people’s relationship to spirituality.

Boundaries have so many aspects to them, and it’s important to understand the meaning or relevance of your boundaries in a certain situation. Now, do boundaries change with family or friends or in romantic relationships? Absolutely. How many of you have found that some of your family gets to collect $200 and “pass Go” with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card (like in Monopoly)? You may let family get away with things that you would never let other people get away with. It’s okay to allow different boundaries with different people.

For some other people, you may adjust your boundaries based on how long you’ve known someone: “Oh, they’re a childhood friend. They flake on me all the time.” But if you meet someone new, you might say, “It is rude to be late.” Notice how boundaries shift for you, how they change in different environments and in different relationships. Only you can know what’s the right boundary for you.

The last point I’d like to address is about how boundaries can evolve and change. As I learn to trust myself more, I learn to communicate more and my boundaries have become more clear. I have expanded my boundaries in some arenas, and in some arenas I’ve created stronger, more firm boundaries. For example, if you avoid conflict, notice how you might not hold any boundaries as long as someone will just be quiet and avoid making a scene in public. Or you may have difficulty with a certain emotion in conflict and that changes your boundaries. For instance, if you feel shame or very vulnerable, you may give up your voice in a situation or you might shut down and physically remove yourself to create a boundary. Boundaries are complex and unique. Think about what they are in these different arenas and why they are important to you.

Please drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Drawing the lines,

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  • calle

    I discovered protective actions over 10 years ago. My husband hated them. Took him years to realize I needed to protect myself from his abusive family.
    Have not been back for over 11 yrs now. And I love it!

    Until people realize they don’t have to put up with abuse or unsafe situations they are killing themselves.

    I love boundaries and use them all the time. Sometimes mental other times physical.
    Thanks for explaining it so well. Have shared with others.

    C

    • drnehasangwan

      Thanks for sharing. Isn’t it interesting how we don’t realize the power of short term discomfort for long term wins! Congratulations C…that’s true personal power!

  • calle

    Thanks, I find it much easier as I refuse to be abused, bullied or hurt.
    And the people including children who are cruel and disrespectful are not missed.

    We only live once, so putting us first is so important.

    And having headaches, sick tummies or off the wall stress is not worth dying early.

    And not having to go out of the way to change plans, to bend or to not be true to ourselves.

    Why we do it to ourselves is amazing.