What are Healthy Boundaries and Why do we Need Them
Establishing and honouring one’s boundaries—be it physical or emotional—is a sign of respect and an integral part of self-care
“Connecting with others is part of our basic human need and it’s in our DNA. We are instinctively social beings and built for relationships. However, that does not mean that we do not maintain emotional or social boundaries—be it in our personal or professional lives,” says Aparna Samuel Balasundaram, an award-winning psychotherapist, corporate wellbeing consultant and TEDx speaker based in Austin, USA. Ever since childhood, we’ve been conditioned to believe that being open and welcoming is a positive trait, that making time for loved ones and letting them in, qualifies as an act of kindness. But what most people fail to understand is that setting up certain boundaries is necessary in order to maintain a healthy bond with your family and friends. Without healthy boundaries, relationships do not thrive—they result in feelings of discontentment, regret, or violation.
Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries
Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes. Some people are really strict with them while others might not care as much.
If you have more strict boundaries, it’s possible that you:
- keep to yourself
- seem detached, even with family and friends
- have a habit of pushing people away
- avoid socialising
And if you have loosely knit boundaries then you might:
- get too involved with other people’s problems
- find it difficult to say “no”
- have a fear of rejection
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to forming boundaries, it is important to note that the above listed behaviour falls at the extreme ends of the spectrum and is not healthy in any shape or form. What’s advisable is finding the right balance and creating patterns that allow you to carve out personal space without having to push loved ones away.
Why do we need healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries provide an invisible buffer in between relationships so that there’s enough breathing space. They give you the much needed time and space for practicing self-care. “I know many people who in their need to please others, be liked by others or in the hope to form a bond quicker and build trust, will lower their boundaries too fast and too much. This increased vulnerability early in a relationship, can increase the chances of others taking advantage of that, or us getting too meshed in another person’s life, losing our own sense of individuality in the process. So, for your own sense of self and esteem, it’s good to be intentional about creating personal space and a boundary,” Balasundaram adds
The different types of healthy boundaries
- Physical boundaries
They include your need for personal space, and how comfortable you feel with physical touch—be it at home or at a workplace. They might sound like, “I’m not big on hugs, can we shake hands instead?”
- Emotional boundaries
Emotional boundaries are about honouring one’s feelings and emotions and realising that there might be a limit to them. They might sound like, “This conversation is a little too much for me, can we please talk about something else?”
- Sexual boundaries
Healthy sexual boundaries start with valuing consent and respecting preferences, desires, and privacy. Remember that it’s always okay to say “No”. Sexual boundaries might sound like, “I don’t want to have sex right now, can we watch a movie instead?”
- Time boundaries
Time is the most valuable commodity so it makes sense that establishing time boundaries is healthy for your mental health. This includes respecting schedules and deadlines. They might sound like. “I won’t be able to help you this weekend, can we do it some other time?”
- Material boundaries
These refer to the limitations you’ve set over sharing physical possessions like your house, car, money etc. It is important to establish and respect material boundaries so that there’s no friction in your relationships. Material boundaries might sound like “I’m sorry but I don’t like sharing my clothes with anyone.”
The bottom line
“Setting a boundary helps you to define and establish your identity and individuality. This in turn sends a message to others on what you stand for. Taking a page from physics—on how much light an object lets through—boundaries are not meant to be opaque (solid and non-permeable), or on the other extreme—transparent (completely permeable, allowing everything and anything to pass through). The ideal would be translucent, which is not fixed and semi-permeable, that allows certain things but restricts others—a balance that you’ll have to perfect over time.” Balasundaram adds.