I used to think that personal boundaries are simply limits. Yeses and nos. Fences we put up to protect ourselves. And they are all those things. But they’re also so much more.
Last month I spoke with two psychologists, who really opened my eyes to the power of boundaries. Basically, boundaries are about our sense of self. As I write in the article, we feel lost when we take on too many commitments or do things that go against our morals. Because when that happens, you are “at the whims of others’ needs,” without a sense of foundation, Katayune Kaeni, PsyD, told me. In other words, when we do things for others, while neglecting our own needs, beliefs and definitions of what is and isn’t comfortable, these actions erode our sense of self.
Boundaries help us define who we are. According to Sherry Walling, Ph.D, in the same piece, “I really think that boundaries aren’t just little gates that we put around ourselves; they’re about who we decide to be in the world.”
And what we say yes to and what we say no to are connected to that. Do you gossip, or, as Walling said, do you have a voice inside you that says, “I don’t want to do that. This is not who I am”? Because if you do have that voice, you likely set a boundary around not gossiping. Which might translate into you speaking up for the person or removing yourself from the conversation.
Do you regularly check your phone when you’re with your kids? Do you bring work home? Do you talk about calories and comment on other people’s bodies? Do you let someone dictate what you’re eating? Do you talk about last night’s fight with your spouse on Facebook? With your co-workers? How much do you reveal on social media? How often do you check social media while you’re working or relaxing? Do you go out with your co-workers for drinks? Do you drink? How much?
Do you write about private topics on your blog? How do you define “private”? How well do you have to know someone before your child sleeps over their house? How well do you have to know someone before you trust them with your belongings or your heart? Do you say yes to something you really don’t want to do? Do you spend time with people who don’t support you?
These are all questions that pertain to personal boundaries and to who we are. To who we want to be. (In the article, Walling stressed the importance of asking ourselves: “Who do I want to be in this world?”) Because personal boundaries go beyond barriers. And not only are they vital to who we are; they are vital to how we live.
Who do you want to be in this world? How can you use boundaries to help with that? What boundaries will you set?