When I was in elementary school, I remember being taught about personal space. I was one of the many kids who needed to be told that I was sitting or standing too close to people and that I needed to respect their space. While the word ‘boundaries’ wasn’t used, I was being taught that people have different physical boundaries that we need to respect. Funnily enough as an adult, I really enjoy my personal space and have had to voice my own physical boundaries to others when I felt they weren’t being respected. But physical boundaries are not the only type that are important for us to be able to set for ourselves and those around us. Other examples include communicational, emotional, and time boundaries, all of which are equally important to maintaining our wellbeing.
I, like most people, have felt stressed, anxious, and/or angry when I have felt my boundaries have been crossed. For example, I feel very anxious and upset when someone yells at me. Because of this, I have set a boundary that I will not accept people communicating with me by yelling. So, how would I go about maintaining that boundary? Say I am speaking with someone who becomes angry and starts to yell. I would then tell them that if they continue yelling at me, then I will end the conversation. If they refuse to stop yelling, then I would remove myself from the conversation by walking away, hanging up the phone, or simply stop talking. This is just one example of a communicational boundary. Another communicational boundary could be muting or leaving a group chat that you have noticed causes you stress.
Emotional boundaries involve you taking responsibility for your own emotions, protecting them, and separating them from the emotions of others. An example might be that certain topics that are very sensitive or upsetting for you, and so you set boundaries around them. For example, if my weight was a topic that upset me and my friends/family brought it up to me, I could say, “That isn’t a topic I’m willing to discuss”. Setting boundaries in this way is hard, especially when setting them with loved ones, but remember that it is a way for you to protect your own wellbeing. It may feel rude at times, but you have the right for your boundaries to be respected. Just like others have the right for you to respect their boundaries in return.
We can also set boundaries around how we spend our time/energy, and how we allow others to spend our time/energy. I can sometimes be a bit of a people pleaser. Because of this, I have had to become better at setting time boundaries for myself and those around me. For example, I have become better at saying ‘no’ to people when I am feeling overwhelmed. I try to be clear and say things like, “I won’t be able to do that for you”, or “No, I am not able to meet today”. This has helped me from stretching myself too thin and becoming overwhelmed. Another time boundary I set for myself is that I really limit the amount of time I spend following the news and/or politics. I noticed that more often than not, consuming that type of media was making me upset and anxious. I have found that setting boundaries around how I, or others, spend my time has helped my mental health.
Boundaries are a way that we create safety for ourselves, and they are also a form of self-care that contributes to our wellbeing. It is not always easy to set boundaries and it takes practice. But remember that we all deserve to have our boundaries respected. I still have work to do with learning what my own boundaries are and how to set them for myself and others, but I will keep working at it because I know that it is important. I encourage everyone to reflect on what their boundaries are and to try and think of how they would maintain them.