Human beings are hard-wired for connection. We are social creatures that desire belonging and shared experiences. Relationships are just as crucial for physical and mental health as food and water. However, cultivating meaningful connections with other people touches on our vulnerability.
When engaging with others, humans risk the possibility of rejection, putting us in a vulnerable state and activating our fear response. It is genuinely humbling to stand emotionally naked in the presence of another human being, unable to control the other person’s response. Even if that person is the safest, most non-judgmental, loving person in the world, it still takes guts to initiate and maintain a relationship with others. Relationship boundaries are essential for our emotional safety and security.
Relationship boundaries are intentional guidelines between you and another person, clearly noting where you begin and the other person ends. The intent is to honor the inherent worth of self and others with respect for each individual’s core values, beliefs and needs. The clear instructions on how you want to be treated tell the world who you are and what you value.
As children, we learned how to behave and interact with others directly and through observation. Unfortunately not all relationships provide clarity on healthy ways to set limits for ourselves and others. Whatever your past self learned about the social-emotional ebbs and flows of life, choosing to say “no” can be stressful for everyone.
Everyone’s brain will make some noise when faced with the possibility of rejection. We need a diverse collection of humans in our lives to help us stay alive, create meaning and purpose and maintain our sense of well-being. That painful zing is your brain’s way of ensuring you are keeping yourself safe. So when you feel it, remind yourself that setting limits is kindness in action. Your boundaries communicate to other people, “I value myself and am responsible for my actions.” Instead of taking responsibility for another person’s actions or coming to their rescue, kindness is demonstrated by accountability and confronting boundary ruptures.
Although anxiety-producing at first, setting boundaries improves your sense of well-being over time because you’re making time and space for interactions and connections that are beneficial and meaningful for you. Boundary setting begins with a vivid understanding of your unique needs and personal limitations. Being grounded in who you are and maintaining your needs as significant prevents an existence in which you feel used, resentful and overextended.
The freedom to make choices and set limits regarding your privacy, time, money, abilities and personal space comes with the reality that your decisions will impact other people. While some people may respond with respect and understanding when you communicate your boundaries, others may react with angry words, shaming and guilt. If someone breaches your limits, it is kind to be transparent about the breach and reiterate your expectations. Most boundary breaches are unintentional. However, if a person continues to ignore or violate your boundaries, you may need to limit your interactions with them or say “goodbye.”
Even with boundaries, no relationship, healthy or otherwise, is without irritations, disagreements and challenges. Conflict plays a vital role in the growth and development of healthy relationships. It allows us to strengthen our well-being and make informed decisions about whether the relationship is a good fit for ourselves and the other person.
How do you know if a relationship is a good fit for you? For example, suppose you can express your opinions and feelings with another person and feel you are respected, appreciated, included and challenged. In that case, a relationship is most likely a good fit for you.
Remember, it’s okay to have likes and dislikes, even if it is a person. ::
Encourage a healthy relationship with yourself and others.
- Establish your needs and take responsibility for them.
- Clearly define how you want to be treated by others.
- Maintain transparent communication when others breach a boundary.
If you don’t feel safe setting boundaries in your relationships, call the Domestic Abuse Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org