Develop & Maintain Healthy Functional Boundaries

One of the key tasks and skills to master when growing up is that of boundaries. I certainly found the concept and implementation of them very challenging, but like most things with consist work, they will naturally fall in to pace.
 
Boundaries are what let us know when we are abusing or disrespecting someone else physically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually and/or being abused or disrespected physically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. A boundary is therefore an invisible fence or space that we put in place in order to protect ourselves and in order maintain an authentic sense of self without offending others. It is made up of our sense of worth, your identity, your rights, and your right to express and defend your rights.

 

The Benefits of Healthy Boundaries

 

Having a healthy boundary allows me to know where you end and I begin, and it alerts me to when others are intruding on my boundaries. Healthy boundaries lead to empowerment and self-confidence, they are also an essential ingredient for healthy, intimate relationships, as they allow you to be deeply intimate with your partner without losing sight of who you are. Developing flexible functional boundaries is a key emotional maturity and emotional well-being task.
 
The four main boundaries are:
 
  • Physical boundaries
  • Emotional boundaries
  • Intellectual boundaries
  • Spiritual boundaries
 
As you read through the descriptions of each, take time to reflect on the state of your own boundaries and whether your boundaries are healthy and intact, non-existent, partially existent or fluctuating depending on circumstances. 
 
Physical Boundaries
 
Physical boundaries refer to the non-sexual and sexual parts of the physical body and to your physical possessions. A person with healthy functional physical boundaries (an emotionally mature adult):
 
  • Is able to know and communicate how physically close they want others to be with them
  • Is able to know and communicate to others how they do or do not want to be touched 
  • Has the awareness to know when their physical boundaries are or have been violated and is able to take action in order to address this. Usually this takes the form of making a simple, respectful request
  • Is able to communicate their sexual and non-sexual touch needs and desires to their partner and put limits in place if these are not respected
  • Knows that no-one has the right to touch them or be sexual with them without permission
  • Will not violate / disrespect another persons physical boundaries (see below)
  • Will set limits around anyone who violates / disrespects their physical boundaries (see below)
 
The most common ways in which physical boundaries are violated / disrespected include:
 
  • standing too near to someone and invading their personal space without permission
  • inappropriate sexual and on-sexual touch
  • holding, slapping, pinching, shaking, unwanted tickling, hitting, punching
  • inflicting injury or physical violence
  • hugging or kissing someone when they don’t want to be,
  • making inappropriate sexual advances
  • hugging with too much body contact
  • looking through another persons belongings, letters, diary etc
  • listening to another persons conversations
  • not allowing others to have their personal space or privacy
  • taking someone’s possessions without getting permission to do so
  • stealing
  • looking at someone lustfully without their permission
  • committing sexual abuse or rape.
 
Emotional Boundaries
 
Emotional boundaries refer to how we relate to one another at the level of emotion. A person with healthy functional emotional boundaries (an emotionally mature adult):
 
  • Takes full responsibility for their own emotions and for containing and expressing those emotions appropriately and respectively
  • Does not take responsibility for another persons feelings, but takes into consideration other peoples feelings
  • Is able to communicate their feelings to others in ways that own the feelings they have. For example rather than using statement starting ‘you…,’ they use the word ‘I feel…’
  • Are able to discriminate between their own feelings and feelings belonging to others
  • Knows they have a right to any feeling that they are having, but not a right to use that feelings destructively against themselves or others
  • Doesn’t attempt to control or deny other peoples feelings
  • Determines the range of comments that they will accept from another person
  • Will not violate / disrespect another persons emotional  boundaries (see below)
  • Will set limits around anyone who violates / disrespects their emotional boundaries (see below)
 
The most common ways in which emotional boundaries are violated / disrespected include:
 
  • using feelings to manipulate another person (by using guilt or anger to try and control someone)
  • diverting someone’s attention when their feelings come up (for example by switching subjects)
  • minimising someone’s feelings (‘its not that bad’)
  • controlling another persons feelings (‘oh just shut up’)
  • discounting someone’s feelings (‘you are not really angry’)
  • ignoring someone else’s feelings (pretending you aren’t ware of their feelings / emotional state)
  • blaming your emotions on another person (‘you make me feel mad’)
  • telling someone that they are responsible for the way you feel
  • saying ‘if you loved me ….’,
  • assigning to others feelings that we are denying ourselves
  • saying ‘I have done so much for you…’
  • yelling or screaming at some one
  • being sarcastic or passive-aggressive
  • name-calling
  • emotionally withdrawing or withholding from your intimate partner
  • calling or e-mailing someone frequently
  • spending to much time with someone when they don’t want to be around us
  • believing we know what someone else is feeling and then reacting according to what we imagine
  • breaking a commitment
  • demanding that we know someone else personal details
  • being possessive over or smothering someone
  • getting overly involved in our peoples business.
 
Intellectual boundaries
 
Intellectual boundaries refer to our worldview and perspective. It includes what we value, think, believe, want and need. A person with healthy functional intellectual boundaries (an emotionally mature adult):
 
  • Takes responsibility for their own thoughts
  • Values their own thoughts and opinions, but is open to the thoughts and opinions of others
  • Will not sacrifice their own goals, wants and needs for someone else’s without talking about it and negotiating a balance
  • Will not violate / disrespect another persons intellectual boundaries (see below)
  • Will set limits around anyone who violates / disrespects their intellectual boundaries (see below)
 
The most common ways in which intellectual boundaries are violated / disrespected include:
 
  • denying someone’s perspective (‘you are wrong’)
  • patronising a person
  • interrupting the person whilst they are speaking
  • not listening to what the other person is saying
  • thinking that someone should see things the same way as you do
  • ignoring what someone has shared
  • ridiculing or berating someone
  • assuming we know what another person is thinking
  • saying ‘I know what is best for you’
  • saying ‘lets not talk about that’
 
Spiritual boundaries
 
Spiritual boundaries refer to our relationship with a transcendent higher power. They include your religion, spiritual beliefs and spiritual practices. A person with healthy functional spiritual boundaries (an emotionally mature adult):
 
  • Knows and affirms their own spiritual nature and way of practising spirituality
  • Will not violate / disrespect another persons spiritual boundaries (see below)
  • Will set limits around anyone who violates / disrespects their spiritual boundaries (see below)
 
The most common ways in which spiritual boundaries are violated/disrespect include:
 
  • playing God (‘you will do what I say’)
  • portraying a condemning or judgmental picture of God (you will burn in hell for that)
  • denying someone’s right to have different spiritual beliefs
  • denying someone’s perspective (‘you are wrong’)
  • saying someone else beliefs about the nature of reality is wrong
  • making out that you speak for God, questioning another persons faith or spiritual beliefs
 

Tips for Creating Healthy Boundaries

 
Boundaries work is some of the most important work that you can do, but its also highly sensitive work and one that is usually best done under the guidance of a therapist or learnt on a workshop. You can however make great inroads in developing healthy boundaries by doing the following
 
  • Increasing your body awareness and emotional literacy (module three)
  • Reflect back on your family and in turn taking an objective and honest look at the boundaries of each family member. What have you learnt? How have the early years impacted on your boundaries?
  • Make a list of the times in the past when your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual boundaries were violated. If strong feelings come up, process them using one of your emotional processing tools
  • Make a list of the times in the past when you physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual violated other people’s boundaries. If strong feelings come up, process them using one of your emotional processing tools
  • Spend a day observing peoples physical boundaries, then the next day observing emotional boundaries, then intellectual and then spiritual boundaries. Journal on your observations and discoveries
  • Read through the features of someone with healthy boundaries and start implementing them in your life
  • Practise communicating your needs and wants
  • Assume complete responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions
  • Working with a counsellor or couples therapist to learn about boundaries
  • Write down a list of all of the fears that you have about communicating your truth and setting boundaries.
  • Create a list of your personal rights, making sure you cover each boundary type. For example I have a right to say how and if I want to be touched’. Have the list to hand so that you can remind yourself of your rights
  • Consider attending a workshop that teaches boundary skills.

 
click here to access the next section



LinkedIn Facebook
To contact us call +44 20 3239 4118
or e-mail us at info@academyofhumanpotential.org