Healthy boundaries are an important part of any relationship—whether it’s romantic, platonic, or familial. As trauma survivors, boundaries are important to ensure we feel safe, secure, and able to put our well- being first in relationships. This builds a strong foundation for healthy, mutually satisfying love going forward. But how do we do that? Let’s discuss.
Communicating your boundaries with someone is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy relationship. Before you have the conversation with a loved one, take some time to think about what your boundaries are so that you can accurately articulate them.
What Are Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are guidelines or limits that people set for themselves in order to protect their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. These boundaries define the limits of what a person is comfortable with in terms of their interactions with others, such as their physical space, emotional intimacy, and communication.
Personal boundaries are important because they help you to communicate your needs and values to others, and to protect your sense of self-worth. Personal boundaries can also help to identify and avoid situations that are harmful or potentially harmful, such as abusive relationships or unsafe physical environments. By setting clear boundaries, you can communicate your expectations and needs to others, which helps to create healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. By defining your limits, you can also work to reduce the stress and anxiety that can arise. There are several types of boundaries that people may have, including:
Physical boundaries. These are boundaries related to physical touch and personal space. Examples include not wanting to be hugged or touched without permission, or feeling uncomfortable when someone stands too close.
Emotional boundaries. These are boundaries related to emotional intimacy and vulnerability. Examples include not wanting to share personal information or feelings until you feel comfortable with someone, or not wanting to be pressured into a romantic relationship.
Intellectual boundaries. These are boundaries related to personal beliefs and values. Examples include not wanting to discuss certain topics or beliefs with others, or feeling uncomfortable when someone tries to change your beliefs or values.
Material boundaries. These are boundaries related to possessions and personal space. Examples include not wanting others to use your belongings without permission, or feeling uncomfortable when someone enters your personal space without invitation.
Time boundaries. These are boundaries related to time and commitments. Examples include not wanting to be overloaded with work or social obligations, or feeling uncomfortable when someone tries to control your schedule or time.
Sexual boundaries. These are boundaries related to sexual activity and preferences. Examples include not wanting to engage in certain sexual acts or not wanting to be pressured into sexual activity.
It’s important to recognize and respect other people’s boundaries, as well as identify and communicate your own boundaries clearly and assertively. By doing so, you can build healthier and more fulfilling relationships with others.
How to Identify Your Boundaries
To identify your boundaries, you can start by reflecting on past experiences. Think about experiences where you may have felt uncomfortable, disrespected, or violated in a relationship. What were the circumstances and what caused you to feel that way? You may also try paying attention to how you feel in different situations in your relationship. Are there certain behaviors or situations that make you feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or violated? These may be areas where you need to set boundaries.
When you are setting boundaries, you always want to consider your values. Think about what values are important to you in a relationship. For example, you may value honesty, trust, or respect. Identify how these values translate into your expectations for your relationship and your boundaries.
Ultimately, listen to your intuition and trust your gut instincts. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it’s important to listen to that and explore why you feel that way.
How to Communicate Your Boundaries
To communicate your boundaries, be clear and direct. Use “I” statements to express how you feel and what you need. For example, “I need some alone time on weekends” or “I don’t feel comfortable with physical affection in public.” You also want to be sure that if you are planning ahead that you choose a good time and place to talk. You might not have as good of an outcome if you bring up a boundary when you or your loved one are stressed, distracted, or in a rush. When you communicate a boundary, make sure you listen to your loved one’s perspective and be open to their feedback. This can help you both find ways to compromise and respect each other’s boundaries. Finally, be consistent. Once you have communicated your boundaries, it’s important to be consistent in enforcing them. This helps establish trust and respect in the relationship. Setting and communicating boundaries is an ongoing process that requires ongoing communication and adjustment. It’s important to revisit your boundaries regularly and make sure they still align with your needs and values.
What to Do if Someone Breaks Your Boundaries
When someone breaks your boundaries, it’s common and understandable to feel hurt and betrayed. Consider using this situation, however, an opportunity to revisit a conversation about relationship norms.
To start, it can be helpful to communicate how you are feeling to your loved one. This shares how their actions impacted you and why this boundary is important. You may also be able to better understand their intentions and feelings.
Was your loved one aware of your boundary before crossing it? If your loved one didn’t know, this can be a chance to clarify relationship expectations and needs. They may want to share their own boundaries too. Communication is key. If your loved one knew about your boundary, and chose to break it anyway—ask yourself why? Are they not respecting you and the limits you’ve established? Depending on the situation, this may be a red flag.
Some of your boundaries might be flexible, and you might feel comfortable adjusting them based on your partner’s needs. Other boundaries might be more rigid and set in stone—both types are important to have. You deserve to feel respected and heard in all of your relationships.
You are allowed to set limits and establish boundaries that protect you and that make you feel safe. You are allowed to expect people to respect those limits—as long as the boundaries don’t cause harm to someone else. After experiencing abuse in a relationship, research shows that people tend to develop stricter boundaries with new partners. These boundaries typically become more flexible as trust, understanding, and mutual respect develops over time.
Setting consequences is an important part of communicating and enforcing boundaries. When someone crosses a boundary that you have set, it can be difficult to know what to do next. Here are some tips:
Be clear. When setting consequences, it’s important to be clear about what they are. Let the other person know what the consequences will be if they cross the boundary.
Be reasonable. The consequences you set should be reasonable and proportional to the boundary violation. You don’t want to overreact or punish the other person excessively.
Follow through. It’s important to follow through on the consequences you have set. If you don’t follow through, it sends the message that the boundary is not really important to you.
Stay calm. When enforcing consequences, it’s important to stay calm and not get angry or confrontational. This helps to maintain the integrity of the boundary and the relationship.
Reassess. After a boundary has been crossed and consequences have been set, take some time to reassess the situation. Consider whether the consequences were effective and whether any changes need to be made to the boundary or the consequences.
Remember that setting consequences is about protecting your own boundaries and needs, and it’s important to communicate them clearly and assertively. It is perfectly natural for this to feel uncomfortable the first time you do it, but overtime it will get easier. While it’s natural for our boundaries to evolve over time, ensuring we voice them is important to develop safety and security within our relationships.