On some level, I think we all know how we want our interactions with other people to go. We want to make our points and have them heard, or discuss topics calmly (regardless of what the topic is), or make a connection with the other person. Basically, we want to steer clear of conflict and leave conversations feeling content or fulfilled. And what we want out of relationships is echoed in that. But interactions don’t always go how you’d want them to and relationships can be difficult to manage at times. Figuring out what went wrong and then communicating those reasons is important.
What we’re actually talking about here are our boundaries. Boundaries are a metaphorical wall separating the behaviors you deem appropriate from others and the ones you feel aren’t. When people argue that another person has “crossed a line,” they’re talking about boundaries. We mean the other person has reached the limit of what we’re comfortable taking from them. Boundaries help prevent that from happening and keep things going smoothly with those around us.
Establishing healthy boundaries takes work, of course. It requires being in tune with our feelings, being accountable, and caring for and being honest with ourselves. But regardless of how much work it takes, boundaries are important. The following are some reasons why.
1. Our emotional health is linked to it
Boundaries are part of what defines who we are. To know what our boundaries are, we must determine what is important to us, figure out what we want out of relationships, and from there, communicate those standards to others. Therefore, setting them has a direct influence on the emotional part of our overall health. We feel better when we know who we are, how we want to be treated, and what we won’t tolerate. When we’re clear about such things, we protect our emotions and are better able to stay in control of how we feel. Not to mention that interactions with other people don’t always go as planned, so considering how you plan on responding when interactions go awry is important to our self-esteem. It puts the power in our hands and helps us feel calmer when situations with others become difficult.
2. We deserve to have our feelings heard and understood
Some situations don’t require us to explain ourselves, and we shouldn’t constantly worry about if people understand our perspectives; we’re all allowed to feel what we feel regardless of if anyone else understands. But sometimes we want someone to understand. Or maybe we even need someone to understand, for peace of mind, or if the person is someone we care about. We deserve that understanding. And we can do certain things to try to obtain it. For some, healthy boundaries don’t depend on clear-cut dialogue, but for others, being direct is important (Psych Central). So being specific about how we feel is key. Being direct and specific includes sharing our feelings even if we think the other person won’t fully get it and doing so without skirting the subject. It also includes standing up for ourselves. By doing this, we take part in open, active communication, which fosters deeper understanding.
3. Sometimes situations call for assertiveness
When someone is being pushy, or even aggressive, it’s hard to apply the standards we set based on our boundaries. But “assaults to boundaries threaten the self.” Things like ridicule, contempt, judgment, and forcefulness are harmful to our emotional boundaries. (DBT Tools) We all deserve respect, so sometimes we need to use assertiveness to ensure that we get it. That doesn’t mean meeting aggression with aggression. Instead, it means saying no when we want to, sticking to our strongly-held beliefs, and acting in a way that is in our best interests. We shouldn’t have to always adjust to others. We have to focus on ourselves sometimes. More than sometimes, actually. Boundaries allow us to do that.
4. It allows our self-awareness to grow
To set boundaries, we first have to know what we want. We might have to do some soul-searching to figure that out, but the result is that we know ourselves better in the end. Boundaries also allow us to realize that we alone are responsible for our own happiness. No one else can get guess what we’re thinking with complete accuracy, so if we want something to be said, we have to say it. And if we want some space, we have to express that in words to the other person. By understanding what our boundaries are, we come to understand that we need to ask for what we want and need, and more than that, we deserve to do so.
5. They create healthy relationships
When we are able to communicate our wants and needs appropriately, our relationships can flourish. For example, partners who are open and honest with each other understand each other better. They know what upsets the other person, they know the other person’s limits. Therefore, they coexist more happily. Boundaries also make it easier to lean on others for support because they’re like guidelines on how to do exactly that. Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship even “allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem” (Break The Cycle). Furthermore, with boundaries we come to realize that we are whole in and of ourselves and that while partnership can certainly enhance our lives, we’re still capable of surviving without them.
Establishing boundaries is overall conducive to coexisting with others and maintaining positive relationships with them. It’s also an important part of staying mentally healthy. If you struggle with interpersonal relationships, whether they be with your boss, your partner, or your parents, perhaps the situations can be rectified by examining your boundaries and how you uphold them.
Linehan, Marsha. “Boundary Building Skill.” Dialectical Behavior Treatment (DBT) Tools, https://dbt.tools/interpersonal_effectiveness/boundary-building.php.
“Setting Boundaries in a Relationship.” Break the Cycle, 15 Feb. 2017, https://www.breakthecycle.org/blog/setting-boundaries-relationship.
Tartakovsky, Margarita. “10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries.” Psych Central, 8 Oct. 2018, https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/.