Boundaries Are Essential for Well-Being
Boundaries allow you to separate who you are, and what you think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others. They also allow you to make clear demarcations in terms of your needs and about how you are being treated.
Healthy boundaries are always aligned with your higher principles and help strengthen your character. They are essential for maintaining your personal integrity and well-being, and for having respectful, loving relationships.
Maintaining healthy boundaries is an expression of responsibility, self-love, self-respect, and self-care. Taking a stand for your self-worth and saying no to something that makes you feel bad is an act of self-love. It is difficult to be a victim or a martyr while simultaneously having good boundaries.
Healthy personal boundaries are the physical, emotional, mental, or psychological limits you establish to protect yourself (and others) from being negated, dominated, judged, manipulated, abused, used, or violated. They can also be boundaries that you set with yourself to discourage self-harming or self-sabotaging behaviors, and to encourage healthy behaviors that are consistent with self-love.
How Needs and Boundaries Relate
Setting healthy boundaries is an important skill to develop in terms of having your authentic needs met. These needs, (such as to be respected, to be heard, to be known) differ greatly from the defensive needs of the negative ego, (such as to be right, to dominate, to be better than). Learning to differentiate between these two types of needs is covered in-depth in chapter eight of Integral Emotional Intelligence, Volume I.
Sometimes it may seem that your authentic needs conflict with one another. For example, you may need to balance your need for closeness and intimacy with your need for autonomy, which can lead to confusion about where to draw the line. At other times, it is crystal clear about what is a hard stop or a deal breaker in terms of where your boundaries are.
Although we often don’t realize it, we each have a highly refined (if usually unconscious) radar for knowing when we have a need that isn’t being met. One way this inner knowing can manifest is when we feel not OK inside and experience disequilibrium.
For example, the purpose of anger is to instantly show you when you have a need that isn’t being met. If you are angry (feeling not OK) because your need for respect was violated, you can then make assertive statements and requests that create clear boundaries about treating each another respectfully.
Recognizing when you are feeling not OK, when you have needs that aren’t being met, and then being assertive about setting and maintaining good boundaries are skills that need to be cultivated.
Although you may be someone who finds it easy to set healthy boundaries, many people don’t even realize they need to until they feel negatively impacted or violated in some way, oftentimes repeatedly. Just as we weren’t taught how to recognize authentic needs, we have not been taught to understand boundaries.
When you are learning to set healthy boundaries, it can feel awkward and as though you are sometimes missing the mark. It is a helpful practice to allow that to be okay with you. As with any skill worth developing, it requires practice, patience, and persistence.
One way to look at your integrity is that it is a condition of being unified and sound, a state of being whole and undivided. When your needs are getting met, you have the possibility of experiencing being whole and standing in your integrity as a human being. At these times you are in a state of stasis, meaning you feel OK, and are in a period of calmness, peace, and equilibrium.
It is easy to extrapolate that having the interests and needs of the individuals in a society met, and their boundaries respected, can help to bring about peace, calmness, and equilibrium on a societal level.
Setting Boundaries with Yourself
Boundaries are generally thought of as limits that you need to set with others, but perhaps the most important boundaries are ones that you set with yourself. When you set inner boundaries that are consistent with your higher principles, these boundaries become the guardrails for your behavior and the field of play in which you allow yourself to operate.
If you are committed to being respectful and modeling mutual respect, then you will need to set any number of boundaries with yourself about how you communicate and interact with others. Giving others the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions about their motives, not allowing yourself to make others wrong, and not using disrespectful language are all examples of inner boundaries.
When you are willing to set boundaries with yourself and abide by them, it gives you tremendous authority to request, and to expect, having healthy boundaries in your relationships with others.
Setting Boundaries with Others
The principle of mutual respect, which includes self-respect, requires that you speak up about what doesn’t work for you and doesn’t feel OK. For example, you might feel not OK when you are experiencing an invasion of your personal space, or are being harangued, overridden, gossiped about, or left out of communications or plans.
When you feel uncomfortable in a situation, it will serve you to first check in with yourself and inquire as to what the legitimate need is that is not being met or is being disrespected and messed with. This helps you to discern what your healthy boundaries might be in this situation.
You can then make assertive requests for your needs to be respected and met, and for certain boundaries to be honored. Assertive requests include respect for both parties, and they replace complaining, having emotional blow-ups, or making the other person wrong.
Boundaries with other people often need to be negotiated, and these boundaries can be flexible and change over time as people and situations evolve. This is especially true for people with whom you want to maintain close and trusting relationships going forward.
Establishing healthy boundaries requires being responsible for the impact those boundaries will make on others and being respectful of their feelings and values, as well as your own. When boundaries are created arbitrarily from a place of reactivity, they can easily become punishing.
Setting unilateral, unacknowledged boundaries without making assertive requests and negotiating agreements can seem controlling and be confusing as well as hurtful to the people you are close to.
If you discover that your needs aren’t going to be met or your boundaries honored, then at least you have a clearer understanding of the field of play. You can make the necessary adjustments in terms of how you want to engage. You can reorient your relationship to this person, including distancing yourself from them if that is necessary for your well-being.
Mutual respect means that you also pay attention to when other people’s boundaries are being trampled upon. When you overstep another person’s boundaries, however unintentionally, then making amends is the respectful thing to do.
You can make amends by genuinely apologizing and offering understanding or empathy for their discomfort. You can affirm your respect for them and have them clarify their needs so you can be more respectful in the future. You both have the right to have your legitimate needs and boundaries respected.