Personal Boundaries

Personal boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves as individuals, in relationships and in the workplace. They protect our sense of personal identity and help guard against being overwhelmed by the demands of others. Healthy boundaries also increase our ability to find inner strength and bounce back from difficulties (resilience). Boundaries create the personal space needed for decision-making and goal setting.

If we fail to set personal boundaries, others can easily take advantage of us. And by allowing someone else to set boundaries for us, we can lose our sense of identity and/or control over our life. Losses that can result in abusive or unhealthy relationship.

A healthy relationship involves two strong individuals who are also committed to the relationship. Each has his or her own interests and dreams, but both are willing to balance their needs and goals with the needs and goals of the relationship. Therefore, setting healthy boundaries is not only important to the individual, it is also important in establishing and maintaining positive relationships. (This is true in any relationship – spouse, partner, boss, co-worker, relative or friend.)


Setting Personal Boundaries as an Individual

Before we can set boundaries of any kind, we have to know who we are as an individual. What is important to me? What thoughts and feelings are worth protecting? If we have never really considered these questions, outlining a self-image or clear sense of identity should be the first step. (If this process sounds overwhelming, think of it as a good way to build self esteem and increase success in achieving future goals.) The following questions may also be helpful in learning to set boundaries:

What are my beliefs, values and goals?

Without clear beliefs, values and goals, there may be little to protect. (Skills that make setting personal boundaries easier include the ability to outline basic beliefs and values, along with personal goal setting.) List the beliefs, values and goals that are most important to you.

What are my limits? What is the point beyond which I will not go?

Having listed beliefs, values and goals, take some time to consider the most important ones and think about the limits you would put on each of them. How far would you go to defend them? How easy would it be for someone to talk you out of them?

This creates a base for setting personal boundaries. Establishing basic beliefs, values and goals; keeping them in mind; and making them a part of everyday behavior will help us make better decisions. It also helps us maintain a strong self-image, or sense of identity.

For example:

I believe everyone has a right to be heard, so I will apply that belief when interacting with others. (Practicing assertiveness can help balance both sides of the communication. Learning to say no can also make setting boundaries easier.)

I value honesty, so I will make a conscious effort to tell the truth. (This value will also inspire action when observing someone else being dishonest or lying. Of course the action taken will depend on the situation.)

My goal is a career in law or law enforcement, so I will avoid irresponsible or illegal activities.

How do I make my boundaries known?

Develop basic communication skills. Keep in mind that body language and tone of voice are as important as what is said. Clear messages are often communicated without saying a word.


Setting Boundaries in Relationships

As mentioned earlier, positive relationships are only possible when each person sets appropriate personal boundaries. Abusive relationships exist when one person attempts to control the other person by dictating beliefs, values and goals, as well as, actions, reactions and/or emotions. Unhealthy relationship can also occur when one person willingly gives up his or her sense of identity, choosing instead to be defined by other person – or the relationship itself. Evidence of this can be seen in statements such as: I can’t live without him or her? – or – If this relationship ends, there will be no reason to live?

Relationship boundaries are therefore an extension of personal boundaries.


Setting Boundaries in the Workplace

Workplace relationships, though more formal that personal relationships, are still relationships. Therefore, everything mentioned in the previous section applies to them. The only exception is the fact that – because of their position – relationships with supervisors require a higher level of formality than those with co-workers.

Otherwise, setting personal boundaries is just as important. Where would you draw the line with regard to situations that are dishonest, illegal, unethical or demeaning? Abusive relationships can also occur in the workplace when one employee tries to intimidate or control another. And unhealthy relationships often occur when ethics change with the situation, or when money is the only thing that matters.

Once again, we need to be strong as an individual because workplace relationships can also end for a variety of reasons. To move beyond the loss of a job, we have to be resilient. And resilience comes from belief that we have the skills – or will develop the skills needed – to successfully move on to another opportunity.

Workplace boundaries are also an extension of personal boundaries.