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What Are Personal Boundaries? How Do I Get Some?

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What Are Personal Boundaries? How Do I Get Some?

By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Types of Boundaries

There are several areas where boundaries apply:

  • Material boundaries determine whether you give or lend things, such as your money, car, clothes, books, food, or toothbrush.
  • Physical boundaries pertain to your personal space, privacy, and body. Do you give a handshake or a hug – to whom and when? How do you feel about loud music, nudity, and locked doors?
  • Mental boundaries apply to your thoughts, values, and opinions. Are you easily suggestible? Do you know what you believe, and can you hold onto your opinions? Can you listen with an open mind to someone else’s opinion without becoming rigid? If you become highly emotional, argumentative, or defensive, you may have weak emotional boundaries.
  • Emotional boundaries distinguish separating your emotions and responsibility for them from someone else’s. It’s like an imaginary line or force field that separates you and others. Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming or accepting blame. They protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. High reactivity suggests weak emotional boundaries. Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries – knowing your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others.
  • Sexual boundaries protect your comfort level with sexual touch and activity – what, where, when, and with whom.
  • Spiritual boundaries relate to your beliefs and experiences in connection with God or a higher power.

Why It’s Hard

It’s hard for codependents to set boundaries because:

  1. They put others’ needs and feelings first;
  2. They don’t know themselves;
  3. They don’t feel they have rights;
  4. They believe setting boundaries jeopardizes the relationship; and
  5. They never learned to have healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries, including teasing. For example, my brother ignored my pleas for him to stop tickling me until I could barely breathe. This made me feel powerless and that I didn’t have a right to say “stop” when I was uncomfortable. In recovery, I gained the capacity to tell a masseuse to stop and use less pressure. In some cases, boundary violations affect a child’s ability to mature into an independent, responsible adult.

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For help with establishing healthy boundaries, please call CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.