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All About Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries for Your Mental Health

Human beings are meant to be interactive, social creatures. We were made for relationships in a sense. Yet, what happens when we don’t feel respected, comfortable or even safe in our relationships? What if we don’t feel dignified, worthy or esteemed in our own skin? We are able to get hurt and violated; we feel used, neglected and manipulated by those who supposedly care for us. We feel loathing, embarrassment and shame with ourselves. Thus, we need to have boundaries in our lives with others — and even with ourselves.

When we think of boundaries, we think of fences or borders that keep good things in —and bad things out. Likewise, boundaries keep bad things or people out and good things or people in our personal and professional spheres.

According to Christine Hassler from Thought Catalog — who also explains boundaries well — “A boundary is an self-honoring agreement inside yourself or with another person that supports your well-being and comes from love.”

When we create boundaries with others, we are showing both love and firmness in what we will and will not accept and tolerate. Similarly, when we set boundaries on ourselves, we’re building self-care and self-discipline in what we are or aren’t able to commit in thoughts, words and actions.

Boundaries may take a while to cultivate in our lives. Christian Psychologists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, who wrote a book called “Boundaries,” discussed throughout the book how healthy boundaries should be taught and modeled to children from their parents and guardians. When families don’t have healthy boundaries instilled in the home, they often negatively impact how those children behave in relationships when they become adults, as well as affect how those children eventually view themselves as adults.

Two types of unhealthy boundaries are rigid and porous, according to Marvin G. Knittel, Ed.D from Psychology Today. Rigid boundaries are when someone: is emotionally distant from others; avoids close, intimate relationships; refuses help; has few close relationships that are often shallow; and creates distance to avoid possible rejection. Porous boundaries are when someone: has difficulty saying no to others out of fear of rejection or abandonment; tolerates abuse or disrespect; over-shares personal information; and becomes over-involved in others’ problems. These types of boundaries prevent genuine emotional relationships, as well as make the person completely miserable, resentful and shameful.

Healthy boundaries, however, are the complete opposite. Dr. Knittel states that healthy boundaries are when someone values their own opinions, appropriately shares personal information, accepts hearing “no” and refuses to compromise their values or opinions in order to gain approval.

Healthy boundaries reflect self-love, according to Wendy Strgar from the HuffPost. She writes, “Knowing when we want to say yes, when we want to say no, what feels like self-respect and where our own needs start and end are the foundations that build the sense of boundaries that control our lives.” She describes the importance of setting boundaries for our own health and well-being.

We are not able to be functioning human beings if we are constantly burned out and full of self-loathing due to our lack of boundaries. Likewise, we’re not able to experience genuine, positive relationships if we have walls between others and ourselves.

Creating boundaries is a balanced process of figuring out your needs, how you see yourself, your values and interests, how you’re able to care for yourself, what you want and don’t want from others or yourself, how to appropriately say yes or no and how you respond to others. Jane Collingwood from Psych Central notes that boundaries ensure we are comfortable, safe and respected in our relationships. Likewise, when we establish boundaries, we grow into more self-love, self-respect and self-care.

When we practice boundaries, we should receive help from positive influences in our lives. As silly as it is, many people grow up having issues saying “no” because of how much people guilted or abandoned them throughout life for not giving into their demands. People who lack boundaries need help from others in close family, friends or support groups to nurture those boundaries. Collingwood also suggests that in order to have boundaries, those boundaries must be maintained and simple to keep.

We’re encouraged to be responsible solely for our own emotions and reactions; as we don’t want others to put their emotions onto us, so we should not do the same. We’re all responsible for our own individual growth. If people around us don’t respect our boundaries and refuse to remain accountable, we’re justified in letting them go. Everyone needs people around them who will respect their boundaries and will continue to work on cultivating positive relationships.

Healthy boundaries are great to have. Not only are they able to help create positive relationships, but they are able to increase self-care. However, we have the power and ability to individually create our own boundaries; no one else has that power unless we give it to them.

Getty image by Punnarong