Boundaries are one of the most important and elusive concepts we struggle to understand as we learn how to take care of ourselves. Many women were raised in families where they were taught that having boundaries was inconsiderate to others. To put one’s own needs ahead of others was considered selfish or in a religious context, even sinful. As women, we were taught to caretake, appease, placate and especially, never to hurt anyone’s feelings.
There is also a great deal of confusion about what boundaries are and when it is appropriate to set and maintain firm boundaries. When we create a boundary, we are telling ourselves and others what areas of personal space, types of behavior, and verbal types of interaction are acceptable and unacceptable to us. We establish boundaries that define what we are and are not willing to do and what we are and are not willing to participate in, deal with or accept. These boundaries are rooted in our self-knowledge, past experiences and our individual sense of right and wrong.
In a nutshell, boundaries are about treating ourselves as worthy: worthy of respect, dignity, and safety. Boundaries are a form of communication. The message may be “You may not hit me” or “you may not speak to me in a cruel, hateful way” or “if you ask me for something and I can’t do or don’t want to do what you have asked, you must respect ‘no’ for an answer.” When we feel that we have dignity, worth and value, it is easier to set self-caring, appropriate boundaries and when we set self-caring boundaries, we start to feel better about ourselves.
Figuring out what we want our boundaries to be is a matter of trial and error, listening to ourselves and talking these things through with people we trust. Sometimes we need ideas and feedback to help us identify areas where our boundaries are weak or non-existent and how to set up and protect the boundaries we need. Let’s talk about the relationship between boundaries and self-worth in our lives.
- What is your definition of boundaries?
- Do you feel that you are generally successful in identifying and establishing boundaries that protect your physical, emotional, and psychological self?
- Do you see a connection in your own life between positive self-esteem and boundaries? Talk about that relationship.
- List one or two areas in which you have weak or non-existent boundaries and one or two areas in which you have strong, appropriate boundaries.
- In what areas are you working to improve your boundaries right now?