Saturday, October 29, 2011

Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Relationships

Having strong but reasonable personal boundaries can be the cornerstone of having healthy, positive relationships with other people. Conversely, having unhealthy or weak boundaries can contribute to negative relationships. Through the creation of healthy and clear personal boundaries, we are establishing important parts of our identity and showing others what we're actually about. In order for this to happen, it's vital to understand what everyone needs, as well as what the rights and feelings are of everyone involved -- including yourself.

Everyone has a story. We all come from somewhere. While our backgrounds can be very different, it can be said that those of us who come from a dysfunctional environment often have less exposure to boundaries that are healthy and reasonable. Learning how to create and maintain healthy boundaries is a vital part of being a healthy, well-cetnered individual. Creating these boundaries begins with addressing other issues, such as cultivating a higher self-image and to combat apathy. We must learn how to recognize and address our own personal rights and needs. Another important step is to take care of ourselves, within the scope of our rights and what's best for us, especially in the context of interpersonal relationships. These things may take time to get just right, but over time, when we develop a healthier outlook for ourselves, our newly established boundaries will help to keep us safe and well-protected, possibly quite unlike our childhood experiences.

Are boundaries emotional? Or can they be tangible, like a fence in your backyard? The answer is both. Physical boundaries are defined by how close we allow someone to get to us, and by whom we allow to touch us physically, as well as where and under what circumstances we allow it. Boundaries of the emotional type have more to do with how we allow our feelings to be affected by others. Emotional boundaries center around our abilities to take responsibility for our own emotional needs, as well as allowing others to be responsible for their own. Our own boundaries will sometime challenge us, but they also define who we are and what we expect out of relationships. Can we refuse an unreasonable request that we're asked? Do we feel uncomfortable just by being around someone else who is feeling upset? Do our opinions change depending on the people whose company we keep? Do we take responsibility for others' feelings, going too far to please them, while neglecting our own needs? All of these issues will depend on whether or not our emotional boundaries are healthy.

Both sets of boundaries, our emotional and physical ones, determine how we behave toward and with other people, as well as how we allow them to behave toward us. If we did not have personal boundaries, other people would be able to do whatever they wanted with us: touch or treat our possessions or even our bodies in any way they wanted. Additionally, we would be obligated to take responsibility for other people's negative or inappropriate actions, to treat other people's problems as though they were our responsibility to prevent, address, or even solve. Basically, we would have no rights, and every aspect of our lives would be impossible for us to control.

While loose boundaries are often problematic, so are boundaries which are too tough or unyielding. People who live by strict and rigid personal boundaries are likely to push other people out of their lives. They will generally not ask for help when they need it, and they don't allow others inside. These people are often perceived as cold and emotionless, because they rarely display emotions or talk about how they might feel. On the flip side, people with overly loose boundaries will touch people inappropriately, even people that they may not know very well. Those with loose boundaries might have trouble telling the difference between sex and love, and they may get too close to other people much too quickly.

There are also people who have healthy boundaries. They tend to be the most well-balanced, and do much better with social interactions than those who have issues with their boundaries. While they are able to enjoy closeness with those who are special to them, and to accept help when they are truly in need of it, they also respect other people's rights, feelings, and positions. They also take responsibility for their own actions, and allow others to do the same. People with healthy boundaries are more able to compromise, to understand other people's feelings, and they generally have better self-esteem than those with unhealthy boundaries. Often, they are more comfortable with themselves, and also more able to make others feel good around them. Because they respect themselves and also the boundaries of other people, they can enjoy much richer and more fulfilling relationships with other people who respect their boundaries.

What about people who have boundaries that are less than healthy? Well, if yours need a bit of work, you can always improve them. While it may seem scary or uncomfortable at first when you start, remember that this is a vital part in taking care of yourself, and protecting yourself in a way that only you can do. Many people who grew up in dysfunctional, or even abusive, situations have developed survival skills which have hindered the development of healthy boundaries. For example, you may have trouble expressing anger, fear, or other unpleasant emotions, because it may not have been acceptable in the environment in which you were raised, even if the abusive actions of others were what caused the pain or anger. Therefore, in adulthood, it may be uncomfortable and difficult to construct healthy boundaries because of the past, however it is possible for you to work through those emotions and establish healthy boundaries to protect yourself. It won't happen overnight, and may take some time to get right, but it's never too late to start. And even small improvements can help you to live a happier, healhier, and richer life.

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