Self-care is the new buzz word, we all are confused at times wondering what it really means. None of us want to be selfish we assign a lot of value in giving and being useful and thus often confuse boundaries either as a form of selfishness and lack of boundaries as intimacy or altruism. I find healthy good boundaries as a form of self-care. Once we learn how to establish these, it brings a sense of empowerment and happier relationships. We can protect ourselves from burn out at work as well as resentments in relationships.

What is not a boundary

Boundary violations are so subtle to ourselves and others, it requires a somewhat high degree of self-awareness and self-inquiry to understand our own patterns. We also think that they do not apply to certain relationships, but in reality, they apply to every single one of them, including our parents, spouse, friends, children, co-workers, bosses, in-laws and everyone we interact with. Often we confuse what boundaries are?

  • Defenses are not boundaries. When we deny acknowledging an issue, it’s not a boundary. Deflection is not a boundary either. It escalates conflict as we have denied the existence of a problem or the part we played in the problem, created a wall around ourselves to not let anyone in to protect us from hurt
  • Prioritizing our needs always isn’t a boundary either. Expecting others to always accommodate our needs first and making the world fit around our needs isn’t a boundary. Not having thoughtfulness for needs of others creates an imbalance in relationships
  • Staying quiet or have a high degree of agreeableness and let issues blow over your head, shoving uncomfortable emotions under the rug as a way to avoid conflict is avoidance simply, and not any form of boundary. By not providing feedback we do not tell the world what is okay and what is not okay with us
  • One way limit isn’t a boundary either, where we define limits on what is acceptable or unacceptable to us, but do not respect other person’s similar need or vice-versa where we set a high bar of integrity for ourselves but do not filter others through that lens and let everything come in our lives

Unhealthy behaviors requiring a boundary

A lot of our behaviors stem from our belief systems or modeling behaviors of people we love or idealize. If we are not aware of the underlying values and beliefs that are driving our behaviors we can easily stray into actions, behaviors, and expectations that can cause a lot of grief.

A useful way to identify is the ‘why’ behind our behaviors and expectations, asking some tough questions and answering them honestly, that itself can uncover a lot of messiness in our actions. These can help us identify the areas which we need to work on to identify and set boundaries.

  • Over-giving is not always a sign of altruism, ask why you do it, what does it make you feel about yourself? Are you controlling the outcome of your relationships or fearful of something else? Do you feel resentful after giving or if not appreciated back?
  • Rescuing people isn’t always a sign of caring, ask what is it about the role you love to play, means to you? Is your self-worth dependent on it or is the blueprint of a role play you are conditioned from your childhood?
  • Oversharing isn’t intimacy, ask yourself what is the underlying need behind oversharing? Are you acting based on fears of loss, need for validation or is it a genuine need for healthy connection?
  • Handing trust over to people even if they continue to prove to be untrustworthy, isn’t innocence, ask why the lack of self-responsibility in seeing people and situations for what they are and instead of believing what you want to believe to avoid conflict?
  • Talking about the same problem over and over again to a friend or colleague isn’t venting, ask yourself why you can’t face the conflict and play an active role in taking action or solving it or accepting it if you can not change?
  • Attaching to your beliefs to the extent of discarding other person’s beliefs are not a sign of wisdom, ask why so much attachment to your own beliefs and your stories? Why the rigidity around other’s perspectives? Or agreeing way too much to stay likable?
  • Taking over responsibility for other’s work or feelings isn’t about how virtuous you are, ask yourself what stops you in ensuring people are accountable for their actions and responsible for their own work?
  • Enabling one-way relationships, ask yourself what is the underlying fear which holds you back to form reciprocal relationships and secretly resenting the one-way relationships?
  • Enmeshment in relationships isn’t love, ask yourself what is playing out from your past, to cause the neediness in your present relationships? What void are you trying to fill?
  • Tolerating bad behavior that is hurting your self-respect, what underlying fear is holding you back to walk away or set a boundary?

If we stay honest to ourselves we can uncover what we need to heal within ourselves, what we have to accept, what we need to forgive, what we need to reject in our lives, what needs to change in our belief systems, what behaviors we have to modify to support our boundary setting. Our outer world boundaries are a projection of our inner world boundaries. Boundaries are powerful tools to ensure our well being and mental health. While we mostly understand physical boundaries, we often do not understand emotional and conversational boundaries. They apply as much to each aspect of our lives.

If we pay attention our bodies tell us when our boundaries are crossed. Feeling anxiety, headache, sudden fatigue, energy drain, feeling guilt and shame are indicators when we need to question our boundaries.

Knowing where your beliefs stem from and what your values are, are another way to figure out what you would tolerate and what you would not. We do have to keep checking our belief systems if they are formed on the basis which is not serving us, time to take stock of them and change them. Our values are the biggest compass we have to navigate the complex world around us. If we watch our physical signs closely and question our own behaviors often the boundary setting actions and behaviors feel empowering. They make us feel safe.

A good way to start practicing boundary settings is in low stake situations and relationships so that it feels less scary before we start practicing it into core areas of our lives. Ultimately setting and expressing boundaries with kindness is a practiced art over a period of time, it’s also a sign of mutual respect. We can truly stay authentic to our core values and create a breathing space for ourselves and others as well for more fulfilling relationships.

Once we have adaptive boundaries in place, we do not feel entitled to what we receive in life, we do not feel obligated to give in life unless we want to. We can stay in our integrity and let other’s stay in theirs.