As a highly sensitive person, an empath and the product of a first generation parent I've often struggled with my own boundaries in relationships with others. Before I started my own healing journey I equated an emphasis on boundaries to being inflexible and closed off, both qualities that didn't garner much respect in my household. Today, I can finally see just how important boundaries are to my own well-being and development.
Just like the physical walls erected to prevent attack from invaders, boundaries help to protect us from harm. They also help us understand who we are separate from our relationships with people and power structures. They allow us to clearly define ourselves from other people and healthy boundaries help us to acknowledge our needs and to care for ourselves. When we set our boundaries we outline what we are willing to tolerate (or not) from others. In this way boundaries don't just help to keep the danger out, but they also help to keep us in.
So how do you know what your boundaries are and if they're healthy? Boundaries can come in all different shapes and sizes and I like to consider them on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is "too rigid," on the other "too loose" and somewhere in the middle is, like Goldilocks infamously put it, "juuuuuust right" or at least "healthy." You may even notice that your boundary placement on this spectrum changes depending on the relationship your you. For example, it might be a lot easier to set rigid or healthy boundaries with work or your manager vs. your mother.
If your boundaries are too rigid you might notice a sense of detachment, trouble opening up, avoidant behaviors or even a sense of isolation if you've build walls so high no-one can get in. On the flip side, if your boundaries are too loose you might frequently overshare, put others' needs above yours and struggle to say no, which can lead to emotional burnout, overthinking or never feeling good enough. Those healthy boundaries fall somewhere in the middle where we can value our own needs without entirely closing ourselves off.
If your boundaries tend towards the too loose end of the spectrum (like mine did) you might be thinking, "what if I'm not even sure what my boundaries are?!". I used to think that way too so you're absolutely not alone! Here are some suggestions to help you understand your edges.:
Ask yourself how often you overcommit, take on too much to handle, say yes when you want to say no or hyper fixate on interactions (i.e. replay them over and over).
Keep a log of your interactions over the next week and notice whenever you felt like your own needs were being pushed to the side.
What was the interaction like?/ What was being asked of you?
How did you respond?
What would honoring your needs have looked like? How could you do that next time?
Journal on why it's important for you to honor your needs and how boundaries can help you do exactly that.
Practice your boundaries. Start small by making incremental shifts and changes that help you respect your own needs. You may even want to start by telling a close friend your intention to help yourself in this way and asking them to hold you accountable.
"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others." - Brene Brown
What if people don't respect your boundaries? Well that's important information too. You may want to start by checking in with yourself and asking, is this boundary too rigid? If it's not and this person is unwilling to respect your boundaries that might be a sign that a greater change in the relationship is required.
Whether we are experienced with boundaries or tend to not have any, they can feel awkward at first. That's OK! Saying no to people or asking for what you want or need can feel uncomfortable especially when you're not used to it. As you practice setting boundaries try to remember why you want those boundaries and how they will serve you and you might be very pleasantly surprised by how you different you feel.