Healthy boundaries are an important ingredient of authentic living, and are essential for your self-development and ability to have successful relationships. Many relationship breakdowns, and any unhealthy relationship, can be traced to healthy personal boundaries not being created, communicated, and respected in the relationship. In this post I will discuss what healthy boundaries are, why they are important, and how to create them.
What are Healthy Boundaries and Why Are they Important?
Healthy boundaries are the limits you place on giving and taking in a relationship in order to maintain your integrity and wellbeing. Being able to say yes and no to the other person, based upon your authentic needs, is an example of healthy boundaries. Your boundaries therefore protect your authentic needs, while honouring the relationship as a valuable exchange between you and the other person. Healthy boundaries define what is acceptable in the relationship.
Respecting the other person’s boundaries means honouring their needs and values, without trying to change them or undermine them for your own benefit. Often people who feel threatened by another person, or who want the other person to conform to their own expectations, will undermine the other person’s boundaries in an attempt to control them. This is often seen when people do not get to know each other sufficiently to realise who they are, or when one person changes as they grow in their self-development—to the disliking of the other.
When we are unhealthily attached to our own expectation of another, that expectation becomes more important to our ego’s satisfaction than who the other person really is, and what they are really like, and we can project that expectation on to them, when it is really our own fantasy, created by our insecurity. Undermining the other person is not respecting their authenticity and free will, and will very soon create resentment, jealousy, criticism, and arguments, which will undermine the relationship. If there can be no acceptance of the other person’s authenticity, there can be no real relationship.
Sometimes we can have unhealthy and weak boundaries, which can be self-destructive. If you allow another person to drain you, hurt you, or abuse you, for whatever reason, you will have weak or malformed boundaries. If you find that you are always giving too much to others and sacrificing yourself, or are trying to be the person somebody else wants you to be, this is also an example of unhealthy boundaries.
Unhealthy and weak boundaries are often linked to poor self-worth and a lack of mindfulness about your behaviour and your needs. Often there will be errors of thinking based on fragmented perception. This is why self-development through mindfulness and self-inquiry is essential to undertake before committing to relationships. Self-development is also necessary to overcome the weaknesses and insecurities of the ego, which seeks other people out in order to get something from them by controlling them.
How to Create Healthy Boundaries
Until you start to get to know your true self, you won’t really know what healthy boundaries are, because you won’t know what your authentic needs are. For this reason, creating healthy boundaries begins with mindfulness and self-inquiry. Who are you? What is the real you behind the persona you project? What are your authentic needs that enable you to be your true self? How can you be more yourself? Honouring your authentic self is the number one thing that healthy relationships need.
Once you start to build a healthy relationship with yourself to understand your authentic needs, you can start to define what is an acceptable relationship for you, and what is an acceptable give-and-take in that relationship. You will also need to look at any unhealthy patterns you have, or any feelings of low self-worth, that would cause you to overlook your authentic needs and sabotage your potential to have a healthy relationship. Having identified these, you can then heal and release these with self-acceptance and mindfulness.
Healthy boundaries, shaped by your authentic needs and values, honour your true identity and your journey of self-development and self-realisation. To create them in a relationship, you need to develop effective communication with others, so that you can express your needs clearly and state what is acceptable.
Often we can hold back from communicating our needs and boundaries because we don’t want to scare the other person off, make them disapprove of us, or cause an argument, or because we fear that by discussing needs and boundaries we might realise that we are pursuing the wrong relationship. Be strong, and honour your true self and your authentic needs. If it is not in your best interests to be in a relationship with someone, recognise that as early as possible. Consider how it may not be a good idea to force yourself to be in a relationship because you think things will change or because you are desperate for one thing the relationship can offer you even though the rest of it, which you may minimise or deny, is not serving your authentic needs.
Clear and effective communication in relationships will weed out the unhealthy or unproductive ones, and build the foundation for the healthy and successful ones. Be willing to have the self-love and the learning experience of asserting yourself and finding out what is really for you, and what is not. This will be a great test of your character and your authenticity, and you will grow from it—even if you have the pain of losing a relationship in the process that was not authentic.
Examples of setting healthy boundaries are found in the following declarations. They do not necessarily need to be worded in the same way, but it will give you an idea. Also, remember that your own declarations will be particular to you, determined from knowing your true self and your authentic needs, as well as from from your self-respect and commitment to your health and wellbeing.
- I need to be allowed to be my true self and to develop myself
- I need to be able to speak my truth
- I need to hear the truth
- I will not be verbally or physically abused
- I will not be threatened or controlled
- I will not allow my time and energy to be drained
Notice that setting a boundary should never be a way of controlling another or undermining their boundaries, which is a form of manipulation. This is why your healthy boundaries are based on your authentic needs—stemming from your authentic self—and on you taking full responsibility for your life. When your happiness rests on the control of others, you are trying to make them responsible for your life and happiness, rather than yourself. Be willing to grow into full responsibility.
When we fail to set our boundaries and make them clear to others, we are responsible for making ourselves vulnerable to losing ourselves in other people’s agendas, and vulnerable to disrespect and being treated badly. We may not be responsible for other people’s behaviour, but we are responsible for what we put up with and what we sacrifice in ourselves.
To respect each other in a relationship by respecting each other’s boundaries is the signature of true love. This mutual respect ultimately requires that you and the other person are present to each other from your authentic selves, and have released any negative personality traits that undermine your ability to respect each other—such as lying, criticising, withdrawing, controlling, shaming, abusing, being aggressive, and being codependent.
Healthy Boundaries and Personal Growth
We set our boundaries in place to protect ourselves from being disrespected, manipulated, abused, and drained by other people, and to keep in place our own personal space and integrity that is necessary for us to be in our centre, to manage our time and energy, and to be our authentic selves. Healthy boundaries are shaped by our authentic needs and values, and honour our true identity. They contrast with ego defences, which stop us from growing and living authentically.
The personal space required for self-inquiry and attending to your authentic needs is crucial in a relationship, and is created with boundaries. When you attend to the needs and happiness of others at the expense of your own, you abandon your self, which is actually an act of self-destruction. It can also encourage the other person to become overly dependent on you and to fail to grow in responsibility.
It is important that you communicate clearly to the other person the personal space that you require and why you require it, while honouring the needs of the relationship at the same time, and that genuine agreement is reached about this—rather than reluctant agreement. This ensures that there is a balance between individuality and togetherness.
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