“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” – Brené Brown
Having healthy boundaries AND knowing when and how to exercise them is a hot topic for everyone. It’s no wonder: The pandemic has magnified the dysfunction and resentment that can result from having poor boundaries or worse, no boundaries.
A variety of types of boundaries exist within relationships. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, mental, behavioral, material, or social media-based.
- A physical boundary includes your body, physical space and privacy. Letting others know you are not okay with hugs during the pandemic is an example. Or, not allowing your partner to read through your texts.
- An emotional boundary is separating your feelings from another’s feelings – for example, blaming others for your problems or sacrificing your own needs to please someone else’ needs.
- A mental boundary includes thoughts, opinions, values and beliefs. A boundary would be not allowing cheating or lying in your relationships because it goes against your values.
- A material boundary involves lending, spending, saving and compensation for time spent working. Setting firm work hours when working from home is a material boundary.
- A social media boundary involves setting time limits, connecting with people, blocking people, deciding what to share and other issues of privacy. Choosing not to connect with any co-workers on Facebook is a social media boundary.
How Are Boundaries Our Internal Compass?
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” – Henry Cloud
Each time we set an appropriate boundary, either overtly or covertly, it builds our self-worth, confidence, integrity, and internal authenticity. It helps us identify what we will and will not tolerate. It also gives the other person permission and space to do the same.
Navigating Boundaries in the Social Media World
Social media is a platform to connect, help maintain friendships and promote businesses, but it can also provoke negative emotions and destroy relationships. Exercising healthy boundaries in our current virtual-centric life is essential to our mental health.
Serena and Michael:
Serena started seeing me shortly after she broke up with Michael, her boyfriend of almost two years. Their relationship started to suffer when Serena saw that Michael had been communicating on Instagram with a girl he met at a party. As a result, Serena became suspicious, jealous and their relationship deteriorated rapidly. They soon spent more time fighting, which spiraled into the end of their relationship.
Even after the break-up, Serena was obsessed with “spying” or “stalking” Michael online. She’d compulsively check his profiles multiple times a day, create entire storylines of what she believed he was doing based on an Instagram photo or post. As you can imagine, her behavior was making her anxious, angry and out of control.
Serena is one of many clients I see that “can’t help themselves” and “stalk” their ex partners on social media. I believe social media stalking is the modern version of codependency. This behavior can quickly become a vicious harmful compulsion to the point of where it feels physically uncomfortable when not “stalking.”
Serena and I worked together to set up boundaries. I prefer to start small with little wins. Week one: Look at social media once a day for no more than 10 minutes. Week two: Every other day for no more than 10 minutes. By week three, Serena went two days without even thinking about Michael. Exhale. Yes!
But Why is it so Difficult to Set Boundaries?
Growing up in a home with poor boundaries prevents the development of a sense of independence and the confidence to know where you end, and another begins. A tendency toward poor boundaries is also familiar with people-pleasers or those with anxious, insecure attachments.
Attachment styles play an essential role in how one determines how to set a boundary. For example, an anxiously attached person might think about another person’s needs before their own, which could result in weak personal boundaries, cognitive dissonance, indecisiveness, and confusion.
On the flip side, someone with an avoidant attachment style might push others away instead of communicating clear boundaries. This is a self-protective reaction enacted when someone invades his or her personal space and results in avoiding intimacy.
To learn more about attachment styles please refer to a previous blog post: attachment styles 101.
What’s Next? How Do You Unlearn or Repair Unhealthy Boundary Patterns?
It helps to have a trusted circle of friends who can provide constructive feedback or a professional therapist. Learning to become mindfully aware of your internal emotional state is key — What feels right to you?
Here’s an example: Thor can’t decide whether to send a text to Jane and is tossing around several iterations, worried about how she will interpret each text. Thor has to return home to Asgard but doesn’t want to leave Jane. Thor wants both. How does Thor proceed and be true to himself?
- Stop: I often tell my clients when they are in a state of indecision to stop and wait until they feel grounded before they do anything, especially before they hit send.
- Get Curious: How are you feeling? Are you anxious, worried, fearful, scared, etc.? Our body stores valuable information that we can learn to listen to rather than ignore.
- Be Honest With Yourself: What is my intention or motive in sending this text? Is it coming from a place of love or fear?
If Thor chooses to stay with Jane, hoping that she’ll feel bad and decide to go with him to Asgard, that is manipulation, not love. He could tell Jane he wishes to be with her, but he feels duty-bound to return to Asgard; that’s how to set a healthy boundary with love. (Hope you like my Marvel analogy.)
Determine whether you are 100% committed to following through when you set a boundary. If not, you will erode your integrity. It’s not always comfortable to sit in discomfort after setting a boundary. Be gentle with yourself. The more you practice setting healthy boundaries, the easier it will get.
“Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance.” – Thomas Carlyle