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Having personal boundaries isn’t selfish.
It’s an act of self-love.
In fact, it might be the key to healthy relationships with yourself and others.
Especially now with technology, we are almost boundless. People could reach us almost instantaneously. When we are on our agenda, a message notification from our laptop or smartphone could disrupt us. And suddenly, someone else’s agenda takes precedence over our agenda.
The theme for this month’s self-love project is setting boundaries. But before we discuss the benefits of having clear personal boundaries, let’s understand what personal boundaries are.
What Are Personal Boundaries?
“Boundaries define your soul, and they help to guard it and maintain it.” — Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, Authors of Boundaries.
Personal boundaries define us. They are lines we draw that define what are and are not okay for us. They tell other people who we are and who we are not.
The more we know about ourselves, the clearer we are with our personal boundaries. And when we have clear personal boundaries, other people would have a better understanding of us and our values.
Examples of Personal Boundaries
- Physical (our personal space): How much we allow people to get close to us physically?
- Emotional (our feelings): How willing are we to share our stories and emotions in front of others? How would we like to be treated?
- Mental (our thoughts and opinions): Are we able to make our own decision and say “no” or “yes” to something?
- Spiritual (our beliefs and values): Do we need other people to respect our beliefs?
Setting clear personal boundaries do require you to have self-awareness.
However, sometimes it takes trial and error to know:
- what you can and cannot stand,
- when too much is too much,
- where your priorities lie,
- what is me and what isn’t me?
But setting boundaries is worth it.
Why Are Personal Boundaries Important?
1. You will have better relationships with others.
Most people are afraid to set personal boundaries because they believe it would jeopardize their relationships. However, the contrary is true. People who have healthy personal boundaries, enjoy better relationships with others.
People cross your line frequently because you haven’t established one.
When you have weak boundaries, people cross your line frequently. They don’t do it on purpose. They do it because they don’t know you have a boundary.
When I was young, I used to feel very frustrated with my family for disturbing me when I was doing my work. At times, I would flare up when they intrude on my privacy and felt apologetic afterward.
But as I grew older, I realized I hadn’t been communicating my boundaries clearly to them. As an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I need a lot of downtimes to recharge. I do not wish to be disturbed unless it’s something important.
So I let my family know about my need for personal space. Now every morning, I’ll just shut my door and write. My family knows that isn’t the time to talk to me and they eventually understood my needs. I don’t get frustrated with my family anymore and I have a better relationship with them.
2. You will feel less angry and resentful.
People with poor boundaries tend to harbor deep resentment, bitterness, and anger towards others. They wondered why others kept crossing their line: “Are they doing it deliberately to piss me off?” The truth is most people treat you “badly” because they don’t how you want to be treated.
Everyone is different. Some people love parties while some people like me don’t. Some people believe being critical is honest while others prefer to be treated kindly.
If you don’t like something, it’s your responsibility to tell the other person.
It’s not the other person’s responsibility to guess and figure out what you cannot stand. Rather than giving the other person an identity for example “she is mean” or “he is rude“, let him or her know about your boundaries and see what happens. Whether the other person treats you differently or not, it’s up to them. But your job is to convey your personal boundaries.
Most people would respect you and your boundaries. Some of them just need reminders. But there’s no need to feel angry and resentful secretly, especially when the other party doesn’t even know you are angry with them.
3. You will finally get your work done.
Helping other people feels good. And I’m a strong believer in working as a team and helping your colleagues. But if you find yourself constantly fighting other people’s fire and not getting your work done on time, you could benefit by setting clearer boundaries.
Helping other people do their work isn’t helping them.
Establishing boundaries allow the other person to learn and grow on their own. When you keep doing everyone else’s jobs, you are not giving others the space to figure out on their own. You are not giving them a chance to accept their responsibilities.
Subconsciously, it’s addictive to be helpful. There’s a feeling of worthiness when people depend on you. And you feel loved when other people thank you for your help.
But if you truly want to help someone, let them learn how to solve their problems independently. Guide them only when necessary, don’t do the work for them. You will discover you have more time to complete your own work.
This applies to parents too. If you find yourself doing too much for your children, perhaps it’s time to let go and allow your children to take up more responsibilities in their life.
4. You will have control over your life.
Overcommitting and being busy all the time, give you nothing but stress. Setting personal boundaries helps you to free up your time and energy. Instead of trying to meet everyone’s expectations, with boundaries, you consider what’s most important to you, and give up activities that are not aligned with your top priority.
When you give up activities that don’t serve you, you have more time and energy to do what you want. Fewer commitments also mean less stress as now you don’t have to worry about not fulfilling what you have promised.
Boundary brings freedom, and freedom brings control.
Boundaries give you the freedom to choose what you want to do. You are taking ownership of your life when you have boundaries. Because you determine the direction of your life. It’s not determined by the people around you, telling you what to do.
5. You will be true to yourself.
Personal boundaries are necessary for being authentic. They are your personal truths. When you don’t have clear personal boundaries, you don’t have a wall that defines you. And people can easily force, persuade, or manipulate you to do something that you don’t want to.
Having clear boundaries is a way to protect and love yourself.
In my book The Emotional Gift, I mentioned that I was forcefully persuaded to do customer service work for someone. As I didn’t have clear boundaries then, I don’t know what are my standards, and I agreed unwillingly.
The next day, I regretted it. I hated myself for not being true to my integrity. Customer service isn’t something I want to do. And I didn’t like that I was forced to make a decision on the spot. I’m an introvert and I need time to think before I make a decision. If someone were to force me to make a decision on the spot, then he isn’t respecting me as a person. He’s forcing me to be someone I’m not.
So I told the person I’m don’t want that job anymore. Yes, I broke a promise. But being true to myself is much more important. To be able to tell someone “no, this isn’t who I am”, I felt much better with me.
Now I understand my boundary. Whenever someone forces me to make a decision on the spot when I need more time, my answer would always be no.
6. You will attract the right people and resources in your life.
When you overcommit and later don’t do what you promise, people lose trust in you. Some might even resent you for breaking your promise. To prevent yourself from constantly breaking promises, set clear boundaries, and criteria. They help you decide what to commit to.
As weird as it sounds, rejecting opportunities actually helps you to attract the right people and resources into your life. When you have more time and energy for people and opportunities that matter, people who need your help would naturally come to you.
You need to know what you want first, then the Universe can create what you desire.
As a private tutor, I realized I need to have a clear idea of who my students are and what subjects I’m teaching. At first, I was teaching Maths, Chinese, and POA (Principles of accounting). I was spreading myself too thin. The a-ha moment came when one of my friends ask me to teach animation. I couldn’t take on another subject!
So I rejected my friend and stopped teaching Chinese too. I’m also slowly phasing out POA so that I could focus on teaching maths. And in the end, it paid off. I had a couple of new maths assignments coming my way right after.
When you are clear with your boundaries, the Universe and the people around you would then know exactly what you want and how to help you.
Setting Personal Boundaries: Be Clear and Firm, But Yet Flexible
Of course, when it comes to boundaries, they have to be clear and firm, but not rigid. You can’t force your boundaries on others because other people have their boundaries too. Especially in a group setting, most of the time someone has to give in.
You have to decide what boundary is the most important to you and when there will be exceptions. For example, I don’t have strong boundaries with regards to what I eat. I usually okay with anything. So I’m accommodating to what others want to eat. But if it exceeds 50 bucks per meal per person, I would voice out my opinion. However, it’s also situational, because if it’s a special occasion, I most likely would give in.
So boundaries are not that set in stone. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. And don’t be afraid to change them.
What are your boundaries? Share with me below in the comment section below.
Featured Photo Credit: Leaf on fence / Hank James