What Are Boundaries?
The concept of boundaries is one that we often talk about in mental health and wellness circles, but it isn't always clearly defined or communicated. According to Merriam-Webster, a boundary is "something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent." In most cases, we refer to a boundary/border as a line that marks where one territory ends and another begins. When we talk about boundaries in relationships, we are referring to visible or invisible, verbal or non-verbal indicators that express one's desired level of openness, closeness, or vulnerability in any given situation.
It is an interesting concept, because once you know, it seems obvious and easy to implement, but if you are like me and grew up with no understanding of having "the boundary", it's actually more of a confusing and awkward thing, one that might be tied up with problematic relationship patterns, negative self beliefs, and a lack of self awareness that are often produced from within our earliest years of life.
What Boundaries Tell Us
A boundary can say a lot about a place. For example, when driving through the United States, driving from state to state is more or less an uneventful affair. There is a sign from the previous state that says "come back soon!" and another (possibly cooler-looking) sign that says "welcome to (insert state name here)!" This accomplishes its intended purpose, because the United States' purpose is to allow free movement between the states. The opposite end of the spectrum is a boundary between two warring nations; for example, North Korea and South Korea. This boundary is armed to the teeth on both sides with soldiers, weapons, and equipment. This also serves its purpose; to protect each country from what is perceived as a dangerous sworn enemy. Something in between could be like the South China Sea, a contested area between China and Japan, where the boundary is not fully clear, making it difficult to determine how far each side can go before triggering a war.
Varying Strengths of Boundaries
Much like these countries, we as people have varying strengths of boundaries. Many of us have nonexistent boundaries, much like between states, where others can freely enter our personal space or creep into our time and plans. On the other hand, some of us have boundaries like the one between the Koreas, clear, defined, and impenetrable. Some of us have boundaries like the South China Sea, murky and unclear, making it hard for others to determine where they stand with us.
For clearer examples of boundaries in our personal lives, see the video below:
Oxygen to your Relationships
Healthy boundaries are like oxygen to a good relationship. They make it clear to everyone how they should interact with you. Boundaries are the closest thing we have to handing a manuscript to new friends and acquaintances outlining how best to play a role in our lives. Boundaries are such an important and crucial topic to our daily healthy living that we are devoting an entire blog series to this:
Each of these blogs will hopefully empower you to improve the health of your relationships and to reconsider those that are beyond repair. As always, we will also be developing quizzes, guide sheets, and other resources to offer you guidance for your journey. In the meantime, feel free to check out our series on emotional baggage, self-worth, or check out some of our current resources.