Boundaries: What Are They and Why Are They Important?
Updated: Mar 7
When you hear the word "boundaries", what comes to mind for you? Is it a concept you're familiar with? Does it bring feelings of comfort and safety? Or is it something you've heard people talk about but are unsure how to implement? Do you find yourself feeling confused on what boundaries in relationships look like? Is it a concept that's completely foreign to you?
However you answered the above questions, today we're creating a safe space to explore boundaries, why they're important in every relationship, and how to implement them.
What Are Boundaries?
Simply put, boundaries are clear lines. They let us know where something ends and another begins. In relationships, boundaries help us know where our own individual identity, control, and responsibility begin and end relative to another person.
Sometimes, we're prone to being doormats. Whether it's because we've grown up in families that created a culture of ensuring we provide for every need in our family, or because we've gone through traumatic experiences that have caused our brains to convince us that it's just safer to give people whatever they want from us, it can be hard for some of us to believe that boundaries are healthy.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Boundaries help us have healthy relationships with people in our lives: our partners, parents, siblings, other family members, friends, and coworkers. They help us understand our own limits in relation to another individual, giving us the ability to be in control of our emotions, responses, and reactions to others. Boundaries help us communicate our value and worth to those around us and help prevent resentment towards others. No matter the relationship, it needs boundaries!
When we lack boundaries in relationships, we risk our mental health and quality of relationships with those people. A lack of boundaries can look like:
allowing people to say whatever they want to you, even if it's hurtful and/or inappropriate
saying "yes" when you're asked to do something so you don't hurt or offend the person asking, even when you don't want to do it
not communicating what you're needing in the relationship
feeling a build-up of resentment in the relationship
working overtime, week after week
speaking negatively about someone behind their back but then acting like nothing's wrong to their face
Are there any relationships in your life that might meet some of this criteria? You're not alone! Boundaries can be difficult to implement, and we can sometimes be fearful about implementing them, especially if you grew up in a family where you weren't taught what healthy boundaries in relationships look like. This is completely natural and normal.
Now that we know what boundaries are and why they're important, let's take a look at what healthy boundaries look like, how to implement them, and potential consequences for continuous violation of boundaries.
Implementing Healthy Boundaries & the Consequences for Violating Them
When we set boundaries with others, we're communicating that we know our value and worth in that relationship, and as human beings. Setting boundaries gives us the ability to love others, including ourselves, well. Think of boundaries as a protective barrier: it's designed not just to protect you, but to also protect the ones we're setting the boundaries for.
Need some help knowing what to say to set boundaries? Here are a few examples:
"I don't feel comfortable talking about that. Let's change the subject."
"I just want to let you know some topics I'm unwilling to discuss."
"I'll need to leave at (insert time)."
"I expect a relationship with you built off of mutual respect."
"Thank you for your opinion, but I know what's best for me and my family."
"Thank you for offering your help. I'll let you know if I need it."
What happens when someone violates our boundaries? There are consequences. The consequences to your boundaries being violated are completely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. Here are a few examples:
leaving the conversation and/or room
re-explaining your boundaries and asking the person to tell you what they've heard to ensure a verbal understanding (it doesn't mean they intellectually or emotionally understand; just that you've communicated what you need)
choosing not to attend family and/or friendly functions where your boundaries are continuously violated
potentially ending relationships with people who continuously violate your boundaries
Why This Matters
Not everyone will understand your boundaries, but they don't need to. Your boundaries are just that: yours. They're designed to protect you, protect the other person, create safety within your relationships, and give you the ability to have healthy relationships with others. Boundaries are designed to actually help you love people well; isn't that amazing?
It's easy for us to push against the concept of having boundaries, especially if we weren't taught how to have boundaries as children. Learning new things as adults can be challenging, but if you start implementing boundaries into your relationships, you'll find your relationships to be more rewarding, there will be less resentment, and your mental health will thank you.
Take some time today to reflect on your relationships with family members, friends, coworkers; whoever comes to mind. Are there some relationships in your life that need a tune up? Does a specific scenario come to mind when you think of a time when someone violated your boundaries? If you're able to, mentally place yourself back in that situation. Using what you know now about boundaries, how would you like that situation to have gone? What would you have said differently? How do you want that relationship to look like moving forward? What are some specific boundaries you feel need to be established in your current relationships?
Remember, our boundaries reflect our own value and worth. By establishing them, we're communicating that value and worth to those around us. They are healthy, safe, and good. They protect us. They strengthen relationships. And they're necessary if we want to live healthy lives with the community of people around us.
You have the right to choose what's best for you, including in your relationships with others.
We see therapy as a way to reflect and teach healthy boundaries. If you are interested in setting up an appointment, visit our therapists here.