Setting boundaries means self-respect by Sharlene Ho

You were roaming around an art museum when you reached an area with interesting doors. You were curious about what’s inside, so you decided to explore. The first door looked faded, and it had detached hinges. It was wide open that people can come and go. As you peeked, you saw that the artworks were out of place, and some were even on the floor. It was disorganized and messy. Then you moved to the adjacent door. This time, the door had scratches. The golden doorknob turned to silver. You turned the knob, but it was locked. You knocked, but there was no response. You even used your strength to open it, but it was futile. It remained closed. You got tired, so you went to the next door. You noticed that it was in good condition, with no fading colours and no loose hinges. There was a sign hanging on the door, saying, “Please knock first before you enter and clean up before you exit.” Heeding with the instructions, you knocked and went in. The room was clean and organized. You were mindful of the artworks because of the clear sign. You were able to appreciate what was inside. What kind of door are you?

Why do we have to set boundaries if we can be like the open door which accommodates anyone or the close door who never lets people inside? Because if we don’t put limits, we will get exhausted, which might affect our mental health.  

Boundaries are an invisible wall that we put between ourselves and our surroundings or other people. It is an inconspicuous area we call personal space. It can expand and contract under different situations, but it remains relatively constant to each person. Intrusion in our personal space may cause feelings of discomfort, anxiety, or anger.            

It exists in various spheres of our lives, such as physical, emotional, and intellectual. Physical boundaries concern our need for space or physical comfort zone. Emotional boundaries allow us to differentiate which emotions are ours and which are from other people. Intellectual boundaries enable us to evaluate information from the outside before accepting it as our own.

If we know to whom, when, and how much we allow others in our personal space, we have flexible boundaries, and it is the healthiest. On the other hand, if we can’t distinguish our self as a separate entity from others within different spheres, we are utilizing unhealthy boundaries. For instance, we overshare information about us that should be kept confidential, or shut people out. If we keep on doing it, it can cause anxiety, fatigue, or burnout.

Unhealthy boundaries can be indiscriminately open or rigidly closed. Like the open door in the story, anyone can come and leave, making the place chaotic and messy. It is the same with those who have indiscriminately open boundaries. They invite others into their personal space, which may lead to mistreatment, such as physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse. They validate their worth from other people that they lose their self-identity. In contrast, other people will find it hard to trust them because they tend to overshare.

Rigidly closed boundaries put a wall between them and others. They prefer to be alone and not share themselves with others. They appear insensitive, aloof, and rude. They miss social cues and opportunities for intimacy. They may also feel that others reject them when, in fact, they are the one signalling a desire for isolation. 

There are ways on how we can practice boundary setting:

  • Identify limits. Evaluate to whom, when, or how much you want others in your life. Acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with putting boundaries. Accept that you also need to take care of yourself.
  • Be direct and assertive. Communicate your limits. Express whether other people are invading your privacy and personal space.
  • Respect other’s space. If you want others to respect your personal space, you should also know how to respect other’s boundaries.
  • It’s okay to say NO. Be firm in saying NO. Refuse or decline to things that you don’t feel comfortable doing.

Setting boundaries towards other people does not imply that we are selfish. It only means that we know our limitations, and we value self-respect. There is nothing wrong with focusing on ourselves because if we drain ourselves for others, what is left in us?

References:

Hoover, S. D. (1995). Impaired personal boundaries: A proposed nursing diagnosis. Perspectives in psychiatric care.

Scott, A. L. (1993). A beginning theory of personal space boundaries. Perspectives in psychiatric care29(2), 12-21.

Stiles, A. S., & Raney, T. J. (2004). Relationships among personal space boundaries, peer acceptance, and peer reputation in adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing17(1), 29-40.

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