What Are Healthy Boundaries, and Why Do We Need Them?

by Darcie
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“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” – Brené Brown

Do you ever say “yes” to a friend’s party only because you feel like you should?

Do you feel you have to keep in touch with someone just because they fall into the “family” category?

Do you go out of your way to do things for your partner because you think that they will love you more?

Even if you don’t realize it, you set boundaries in your relationships through your words and actions. Your behavior conveys what you’re okay with and what you’re not.

Sometimes, though, you might not actually be okay with saying yes all the time or being in touch with someone who doesn’t treat you well. This is especially common with family, where you may feel obligated to stay connected, even when it isn’t healthy.  

It can be really difficult to change the boundaries in your relationships, but it can also be very rewarding.

If this is something you struggle with, here’s why boundaries are healthy in all relationships and how to create them.

3 types of boundaries.

There are three primary types of relational boundaries: rigid, diffuse, and clear. Without getting too technical, let’s deconstruct what each of these mean.

Rigid boundaries are those that are impermeable and do not change. When they are in place, relationships are usually only skin-deep and lack true substance. 

When boundaries are diffuse, they often change, and you aren’t really sure what’s okay and what’s not. It’s like there isn’t a boundary at all. There are no set rules, and you might often wonder what the other person is thinking. People with diffuse boundaries often cross lines and become over-involved in your life. They are usually “yes” people and lack a strong sense of self.

With clear boundaries, there’s no confusion on where you stand. These boundaries have been primarily set, though room can be made for slight adjustment, depending on the situation. Friends with clear boundaries will share with and support each other, while also being independent and self-assured.

Rigid boundaries.

Rigid boundaries are often associated with people who have experienced trauma. They put up emotional walls to keep others at a distance to avoid getting hurt again. 

People with rigid boundaries typically don’t ask for help or engage in activities with others. They are generally so closed-off that they can’t make deep connections with others. As a result, they can be loners and isolate themselves.

Diffuse boundaries.

People with diffuse boundaries tend to be people-pleasers. They say “yes” too often, not because they want to, but because they feel they’ll be liked because they say yes.

These people tend to overshare and get over-involved in other people’s problems. They also struggle to push back when someone tries to take advantage of them.

Diffuse boundaries have a tendency to lessen a person’s sense of self because they will just agree with others instead of asserting their own opinions or stances. They run the risk of living a life that’s not in line with their values as well as feeling disrespected for the way someone treats them.

Clear boundaries.

An awareness of and respect for your own needs.

To have healthy relationships, you should be aware of your needs in a relationship. Once you are aware, it’s your job to convey these needs to others.

For example, let’s pretend a friend asks you to make plans, but after a long, tiresome week, what you really need is to make time for self-care. In a healthy relationship, your friend will respect your need and your assertion of your need, rather than pushing back.

Open up to others in an appropriate way.

Having healthy boundaries doesn’t mean you are an open book. Having healthy boundaries means that you pay attention to when and what is appropriate to share.

Depending on the situation, a co-worker might not be the best choice to divulge personal struggles to, whereas a close friend probably is.

You also recognize the value of connecting with others. You know that you can learn from others’ experiences, and you benefit from the bond that comes from confiding in someone else.

Don’t compromise yourself or your values for someone else.

If you have healthy, clear boundaries, you don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Instead, you let people know when you aren’t okay with how you are being treated and that you won’t engage with them unless their behavior changes.

You aren’t afraid to eliminate relationships that don’t add value to your life. While this doesn’t mean that it’s not uncomfortable, you understand relationships must be two-way streets.

The process of changing boundaries.

When you resolve to change the boundaries with someone in your life, be prepared for push-back.

If you’re a people-pleaser, friends or family members are probably used to you saying yes to everything and won’t be happy when you suddenly aren’t at their beck-and-call.

This doesn’t mean you should give in or that you’re wrong in desiring clear boundaries – on the contrary, it only means that it will take some time for them to adjust. Some may never adjust which just means they aren’t a good person to have a relationship with, and that’s something you’re just going to have to get used to.

Similarly, if you’ve never been good at opening up and suddenly the flood gate opens, they might not know how to react. They might even have their own issues with trust and vulnerability and might not be as open to sharing initially.

In time, however, when you show that it’s safe to share and be vulnerable, they may start to open up too.

Yes, there’s risk involved in adjusting the boundaries in your relationships. But if you desire healthy, genuine relationships, where people respect you and you respect yourself, it’s worth it.

How do you set boundaries in your life? What’s been your biggest challenge? How have you benefited from boundaries? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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