Are Your Personal Boundaries Strong?

Flying picI’ve been thinking about personal boundaries. I’ve been told by people who understand and teach about them, that I don’t always exhibit behaviors that indicate that I have “strong” boundaries. I have no idea what that means, so I’m researching the topic. I want to decide for myself if personal boundaries are worth having, or if boundaries are just an arbitrary construct that people use to make themselves feel unique and separate from others.

Try to envision an imaginary wall that separates you from others. According to some psychologists, this wall allows you to have a strong and healthy identity and sense of yourself as a separate individual. It allows you to have a unique identity so that you don’t blend into or take on other peoples feelings. According to Dr. Burgess, who is an expert on bipolar disorder, people with bipolar disorder often have “leaky” walls and boundaries. Leaky boundaries can cause you to feel that you are responsible for others happiness and success. Leaky walls can make you feel as though the other person’s emotions are yours and that you are responsible for them. You can feel so intertwined with others that you can not separate yourself easily. You may take on their problems, emotions, and responsibilities to your own detriment. Frankly, I have enough problems of my own and I’m way too selfish to take on other peoples problems. I do have empathy sometimes but I’m not a pushover. Well – there was this one time…..but it was a lost dog and not a person, so it doesn’t count!

Julie Fuimano says, “personal boundaries are lines you draw that define your values. They are not walls to shut people out, but rather limits that keep the unwanted behaviors of others from entering your space. Boundaries are essential for personal health. They act as filters, permitting what’s acceptable into your life and keeping other elements out. Your boundaries are about what others may say or do to you or in your presence”. That sounds reasonable to me. No one wants to be around annoying people who behave badly. Unless you are at a wild party and everyone is really, really drunk. But that’s the exception to the rule. Right?

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says “A personal boundary is a space around yourself that gives you a clear sense of who you are and where you’re going. When you choose who you allow into your physical, emotional, and mental space you’re activating your personal boundaries”. That’s interesting. I’m very particular about who I spend time with and who I allow into my space. Right now only about four people in total and that’s on a good day!

Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence , created a list of physical and internal boundary violations. I try to avoid doing any of the behaviors listed below, do you? What about the people you are close to, and the people you associate with? Do they violate your personal boundaries?

Physical Boundary Violations

  • Standing too close to a person without his/her permission.
  • Touching a person without his/her permission.
  • Getting into a person’s personal belongings such as one’s purse, wallet, journal, mail, and closet.
  • Listening to a person’s personal conversations or telephone conversations without his/her permission.
  • Not allowing a person to have privacy or violating a person’s right to privacy.
  • Exposing others to physical illness due to your having a contagious disease.

Internal Boundary Violations

  • Yelling and screaming
  • Name calling
  • Ridiculing a person
  • Lying
  • Breaking a commitment
  • Patronizing a person
  • Telling a person how he/she should be or what he/she should do (Negative Control)
  • Being sarcastic
  • Shaming a person

My friend, Margaret, read this article and responded by saying, “I believe boundaries help define our notion of self, and we then respect ourselves as do others in our lives: family, friends, and people at work. But underneath that, we have to know who that self really is on many levels. So who we are is the important question, and the boundaries will naturally follow once we have ascertained that.”

My take-away from briefly researching the topic of personal boundaries is that you must know yourself and what you can live with. Communicate your boundaries to others so that they know exactly what behaviors you will tolerate. Demand conformance to your boundaries. Believe in your boundaries and without reserve, enforce them when they are violated.

2 Responses to “Are Your Personal Boundaries Strong?”

  1. Danny M Reed says:

    I always understood the external boundaries but not so much the Internal. I’m very Empathic and Intuitive and now I have a stronger sense of my own limitations as a person as well as the limitations of others. In the past, people walked all over me because I was inviting them to do so, really. Once I got sick of that happening I realised Boundaries were needed and needed to be enforced consistently unless I CHOOSE to “open the gate” to someone temporarily. Still, it doesn’t seem to bother other people in general to walk right through you unless you put up a boundary and enforce it. I passively waited for them to stop it.

  2. Alex says:

    Very interesting article. How does one set limits with people that violate internal boundaries like yelling, screaming and name calling? The background here is that my significant other is suffering from a manic depressive episode right now. My kids and I are walking on eggs shells to stay on her good side. Despite that she explodes some time to time. It’s exhausting!


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