Healthy boundaries requires understanding of your limits

Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits that define you as separate from another person. Having healthy boundaries means understanding that you are a separate individual with your own emotions, needs, attitudes and values, and that others are distinct individuals with their own right to their own emotions, needs, attitudes and values.

For each item in the list below, identify whether each is an example of healthy boundary or an inappropriate boundary?

• Telling your whole life history.

• Asking for what you want.

• Falling in love with anyone who would pay attention to you.

• Going against what you believe in to please another person.

• Telling an acquaintance you met two weeks ago that you have had drug problems.

• Telling others “no.”

People with healthy boundaries not only respect their own, but also respect other people’s feelings and beliefs even if different from what they know. They are also able to express a personal need to another person. In addition, they are able to accept “no,” as well as tell others “no.”

Having healthy boundaries means taking responsibility for all that is me and not taking responsibility for what is not me. This concept is not easy to achieve and hard to maintain, which is why it’s extremely important to continue polishing this skill.

We all need healthy physical, emotional and sexual boundaries. Healthy boundaries help to define your sense of self, protect you, place you in charge of your own life and promote healthy relationships.

The best place to learn good boundaries is within our families as we grow up. If healthy boundaries were absent in our childhood homes, we may grow up with an underdeveloped or overdeveloped sense of personal boundaries.

For example, children who grew up with very few boundaries may be stuck in a victim pattern when they are older. They may hold an erroneous belief that others’ needs and feelings are more important than their own.

On the other hand, healthy boundaries enable us to know what is important to us and to say no appropriately.

It is never too late to develop them. The first step is self-awareness, or to understand the concept and know your style of establishing boundaries.

According to counselor Maggie Down, you can consciously focus on improving your boundaries once you truly know you have a right to them. Change can start with just noticing when someone has crossed the line and intruded on your boundary. Later you may learn that you can set limits, protest an offense, express a personal need, say no, not feel upset because someone you love is upset or please yourself without feeling guilty. Initially, making these changes can feel very uncomfortable.

Remember, too, that having good boundaries does not mean blaming others for their inappropriate boundaries, but taking responsibility for clearly and consistently asserting your own limits. Unless we set clear limits we cannot assume others will respect our boundaries.

It is also essential that you learn to make your safety your own responsibility and to take whatever appropriate, reasonable and legal action necessary to safeguard yourself if you are in an abusive situation.

• Tram Vuong Meadows is the Therapeutic Foster Home Program Therapist for Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i. She can be reached at tmeadows@haleopio.org, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu’e, HI 96766.

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