Personal boundaries: how do they work and why are they important?

Every living cell has walls that separate it from the surrounding world. The cell walls not only protect the cell from external dangers but also facilitate the internal processes of the cell.

"How is this relevant to me?" you might ask.

The moral is: there’s no such thing as a life without boundaries.

However, the cell walls also have small windows to the outside world. These doors are guarded, and if the visitor is beneficial, it opens them. If the visitor is dangerous, the door will remain closed.

In the field of psychology, the same principles are true.

Psychological boundaries are the understanding of one's own self as separate from others. These are also called personal boundaries.

Boundaries define a person, his capabilities, desires, feelings, and relationships with other people. If the physical boundaries of a person include his body, then the psychological boundaries define the space and sensations that separate him from other people.

A person feels comfortable in the world when he has boundaries that are normal and healthy. He easily communicates, enters into relationships, supports them and ends them, moves from place to place, finds a new job, gladly accepts an invitation to a party, or stays at home without remorse.

Healthy boundaries are flexible.

A person determines for himself at what level it is convenient and pleasant for him to communicate and whether he wants this communication or not. He can get close to people, and then move away if he feels that something is wrong in the relationship.

Without well-functioning boundaries, people experience significant problems in their daily life, in relationships with family and friends, work colleagues, etc.

Violation of personal boundaries occurs when a person neglects his own or another’s personal boundaries. An example of the former is a person who is not able to deny others a request, even if its implementation will cost him enormous effort and emotional stress. In the latter case, an example could be a person who consistently imposes on others with requests or stories, wanting to make sure that people are always ready to listen to him.

What happens if boundaries are violated?

One of the first indicators of violated boundaries is a loss of strength, personal desires, and sense of self.

Often, when people's personal boundaries start to break down, a desire to build codependent relationships appears. A person tries to merge with someone, they feel the need to be a part of another person's life all the time. They lose sight of what’s interesting and important to them.

Their own boundaries are violated and therefore, they don't notice how they violate another person’s boundaries. This person will try to unnecessarily control the lives of others because it seems to them that they are unimportant and forgotten: "Sure, they have their own life, business, hobbies, but what about me?" When such people are left alone, they have to remember almost from scratch who they are and what they’re personally passionate about.

How do I know whether I have healthy boundaries?

Markers that someone’s personal boundaries are being violated:

  • It is difficult for them to refuse people;
  • They continue relationships with people who treat them badly or who they don't like;
  • It is difficult for them to be alone with themselves;
  • They are afraid to show their true self and instead, they try to be what other people want them to be;
  • They are engaged in the affairs and problems of others but not their own — they spend more time on others than themselves;
  • They submit to the wishes of friends/colleagues;
  • They find it difficult to express their opinion or share their thoughts;
  • It is difficult for them to ask for something they need.

Here’s a simple exercise that can help you understand if your personal boundaries have been violated. Simply sit down and ask yourself three questions:

  • How do I feel?
  • What do I want?
  • Do I have the strength to do this?

A person with healthy boundaries can clearly answer these questions, while people with broken boundaries are usually confused.

To sum up

While our body cells naturally create healthy boundaries, we must learn how to create mental and emotional boundaries between ourselves and the world around us. And if you’ve been thinking that perhaps your personal boundaries need to be fixed or strengthened — it’s never too late to do so. Adopting a mindful attitude towards your emotional state and working with a psychologist will help.

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