Living a healthy life is so much about the choices we make, the people we surround ourselves with, the passions and activities we pursue, and of course the boundaries we establish along the way which make it possible to live our best life. If boundaries are so significant, then why are they so challenging to have and maintain?
Why is setting healthy boundaries so difficult?
What do we do when our boundaries have become blurred or even non-existent?
How do we start setting healthy boundaries?
Let’s first discuss boundaries, as we generally know of them, for a minute.
When we think of a boundary, we can see a border, state line, territory, etc. We also may think of the lanes on the street when we drive, as those lines remind us where our vehicle boundary should be. Our homes are divided into boundary lines of property ownership, or even if we rent, we have a certain amount of space that is designated for our use.
If we want to travel to one area, we have to physically cross the border to get there, right? If we want to switch lanes or make a turn, we have to cross over the line, correct? We live in our own homes and we do not attempt to live in our neighbor’s home because of boundaries, right? The opposite is true for these sort of boundaries as well: if we want to stay within an area, we do not cross the border. While driving, if we do not want to make a turn, then we stay in our lane. If we want to talk to our neighbor, we go over and knock on their door…
So, these examples may seem very simple, because these boundaries have been predetermined for us. In many cases, boundaries are imposed upon us instead of our input being included in the original establishment of the boundary. This often happens to us with our personal boundaries as well…but we will talk about that later.
Now let’s imagine our personal boundaries. We have imaginary “lines” and “territory” that are invisible to others, so we have to orally and physically establish their presence. Our boundaries should correlate closely to our personal values, and our values should be priorities in our lives.
Boundaries will mean nothing to us or those around us if we do not tie them to our value system, because if choose not to, then we will not do the work to maintain those boundaries when challenged.
Here is an example: If you value work, family, and your personal time, you have to set up appropriate boundaries around each. One of your work boundary lines may be: NO working on evening and weekends so that you can spend time with family. One of your family boundaries may be: everyone eats dinner at the table with no cell phones in use. A boundary around your personal time may look like: I will take one Saturday per month, away from work and family, to focus on myself and my hobbies. These are all examples, but I am sure you get the idea.
The obstacles many of us face when setting up and maintaining our boundaries are often easier to fix than we believe them to be:
- We never establish our boundaries in the first place.
- We expect other people to magically “know” our boundaries.
- We confuse boundaries with limits.
- We do not stand firm on our boundaries.
- We have set our boundaries, but do not consistently maintain them.
If we just go about our typical day without believing that boundaries are necessary, we will face the circumstances of a life with no boundaries. We will often feel exhausted, frustrated, irritated, and confused because we live in absence of boundaries. People are able to pull us in various directions because we always say YES, our goals become stagnate because we do not carve out time to focus and complete them, and we may feel generally unsuccessful in life because we are so scattered ourselves, going from one thing to the next without any guideposts: our boundaries.
It is easy to confuse boundaries with limits too, and this is another major obstacle. A limit is designed to place a threshold on something, like a maximum about of time, or the point when an item is full or empty, and a limit can also be a restriction. Unlike a limit, a personal boundary is a reminder for us for where our “lines” are, and what we will and will not do according to these lines. A boundary does not mean that we necessarily have a restriction on doing something (although this could very well be part of the boundary), but it does means that our priorities and values do not line up with that action right now.
There is no point in establishing boundaries if you waver when they must be enforced. If you are determined to keep a healthy work-life balance, and not working weekends is your boundary, then you have to stand firm on that. While the occasional weekend of work may not compromise your boundary too much, beginning to work most weekends will. Before you know it, your weekend boundary is non-existent as you have wavered away from your personal value, life balance, and goals. Be sure to set realistic boundaries and do your best to stand firm on them.
We cannot be afraid to state our boundaries. Nobody has a magic wand that will just provide them with all of your boundaries and personal values, so you have to develop the confidence to live your life the way you see fit. Let your NO be no, and your YES be yes, period. Further explanation and details are not always required. Boundaries should be established to help you live your best, and a balanced life, and they will not always be aligned with the desires of others. This is ok.
If we fail to establish boundaries, they will be determined for us.
A final consideration is that when we neglect to set up boundaries for living a healthy and balanced life, this neglect then becomes the boundary. We will then live a life without borders, expectations, lines, or even standards. Our goals will be diminished, our joy and peace will be compromised, and we may be taken advantage of in many ways. We will become known for being the person who never says, “NO”or they always say, “YES.” Our character is also questioned because our boundaries are connected to our integrity and personal values. But most of all, we will not live our best life, as we are unable to even begin constructing what this looks like in our minds or actions.
Take a deeper look at how you exist in your daily life. It is time to locate the obstacles preventing you from having and maintaining healthy life boundaries. The longer you wait to complete this assessment, the harder it becomes to establish boundaries.
Do not continue to live your life without those fine lines…