There are three ways to define boundaries. They are permeable, rigid and healthy. A permeable boundary is one that is easy to cross; there is very little substance to it. A rigid boundary is the exact opposite as it is like a brick wall that nothing can get through. Healthy boundaries, however, reflect what is important to us; it is a way to set limits in relationships dependent on our values and our need to stay safe. In my own life, I have waffled between loose (permeable) and rigid (brick wall) boundaries, often choosing the wrong type for the situation I find myself in. I am striving to change this.
When using permeable boundaries, one can become overly enmeshed with other people. Personally, I can get drawn into situations that are emotionally unsafe for me. My line is crossed because I didn’t protect it and I usually feel anxious or even angry and resentful. It is not the other person’s fault, it is mine. People need to be shown boundaries in order to respect them. If they don’t want to or don’t seem to understand, it must be made very clear, hopefully assertively. If they still refuse, maybe it is time to back off of that relationship or leave it completely depending on your values and ability to continuously assert yourself.
When using rigid (brick wall) boundaries, one can be closed off from other people. Relationships do not exist. It is a very lonely place but sometimes it feels better than having to set healthy boundaries. When I really struggled with assertiveness, I kept rigid boundaries. I didn’t know how else to stop people from getting in my space so I made sure no one got in. When envisioning a safe space, I was on an ocean beach with three high walls where the ocean wasn’t. I would tuck myself into a back corner; sometimes my inner child was with me (but I will save that story for a different day).
I have learned, over the past years, that healthy boundaries are mostly based on our values; what are those characteristics that we hold close to our hearts? By completing a few exercises in a workbook I found online, I came up with the following values for myself: to be valued, to feel worthy, to have and give respect, to be accountable, to be reflective, to make connections with others, to have the courage to share my stories, to show compassion and to use the thought/behaviour/feeling triangle as a basis for challenging difficult crises. I then made up my own “mission statement”.
I will cultivate value, worth, respect, accountability and reflection into my life and apply it by integrating courage, compassion and connection into my thoughts, feelings and behaviour towards myself and others.
It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it is clear to me and I think I can use it, embody it into my daily life to become a healthier, more productive, ‘me’. My healthy boundaries, then, protect this mantra. I’m going to include the link to the boundary workbook that I walked myself through as well as share a couple of pages that might help others set healthy boundaries also.
Here is the link to the workbook:
And here are the two pages that helped me to actually write down some boundaries and might be helpful for you to set your own boundaries if you also struggle in this area: