What Are Emotional Boundaries And How Do You Set Healthy Ones?

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People are messy creatures, even in the best of times. Most people will sometimes find that their problems bleed past boundaries and onto the people around them.

Life is hectic, and we sometimes aren’t aware of how much we are putting onto others.

That’s why it’s so important to have healthy emotional boundaries.

It’s unreasonable to expect other people to know where your boundaries are without you having the ability to communicate and enforce them.

Enforcing your boundaries is important, even with people you generally have good relationships with. They teach other people how you are willing to be treated and what you’re willing to deal with.

If you don’t enforce your boundaries, other people will regularly cross them because they assume you’re okay with it.

Healthy emotional boundaries not only help to guide your positive personal relationships, but they protect you from the negative. If you are fully aware that you are not willing to deal with a particular thing, communicate that clearly to the other person, and they still do that thing? Well, then you have nothing to feel bad about when you decide to step away from that situation that no longer serves you.

Those boundaries also empower you to better help the people you care for or other struggling people. They serve as a defense against the emotional load and turmoil of other people.

It’s much easier to step into troublesome space when your boundaries are intact. It’s so much easier to step back out and leave those troubles where they belong.

What are emotional boundaries?

The simplest way to think of an emotional boundary is a clear line of what is and is not yours to deal with.

That may be something that someone is actively trying to put on you, or it may be a situation where they do not realize how much their actions affect you.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to get a clearer idea.

Sarah recently got out of a bad relationship where she was cheated on. It’s made her feel insecure and anxious that her new partner, Jacob, is going to cheat on her too. That anxiety may manifest as Sarah wanting to constantly know where Jacob is, wanting to look through his phone, or snooping through his social media to look for clues pointing to infidelity.

Sarah’s anxiety may be reasonable in the context that she has not yet processed and healed from the harm that her previous relationship caused her. Still, it’s not reasonable in how to conduct a relationship. A person with healthy boundaries will not allow themselves to be treated that way. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and Sarah’s actions dictate that she does not trust her partner.

Jacob’s boundaries will help to define how Sarah treats him. He may refuse to be checked up on, let his phone be inspected, or set his social media to private. He may choose to support Sarah and encourage her to get appropriate help to heal from her past experience.

He may also decide that it’s not his problem, he doesn’t want to deal with it, and break up with her. He may also choose to break up with her if she refuses to see a problem or acknowledges the problem but won’t work on it.

Ideally, Jacob would be willing to help and support Sarah as she works through it, but some people just don’t want to do that, and that is their choice.

Sarah’s not a bad person, and neither is Jacob. She has some previous relationship anxiety that she needs to mend before being a trusting partner in a loving relationship again. Jacob’s boundaries are there to protect him from the intense emotions of Sarah and vice versa.

Sometimes it’s not so innocent, though. Let’s look at another example where emotional boundaries are necessary with a toxic parent.

Lindsey’s mom, Jennifer, is a narcissist who has been bullying and manipulating the people around her into submission since Lindsey was a little girl. Lindsey has faced her fair share of her mother’s aggression and manipulation to keep her easily controlled. After a while, Lindsey starts to realize her mother’s nature and seeks to form healthy emotional boundaries with her mother.

In hardening her emotional boundaries, Lindsey is less likely to fall victim to her mother’s manipulation and bullying. Lindsey understands that Jennifer’s angry outbursts are there only to instill fear and coerce her into a course of action. Lindsey understands that Jennifer’s words of praise are hollow and only meant to influence her, not build her up.

Once Lindsey understands how her mother works and refuses to accept the anger, fake kindness, or cattiness that her mother uses to manipulate her, she can finally understand that her mother’s actions were not meant to be good for her. Lindsey now knows that Jennifer’s actions were only to benefit Jennifer.

Emotional boundaries are a clear separation of what is you versus what is the rest of the world.

How do you set healthy emotional boundaries?

The act of setting healthy emotional boundaries comes down to putting yourself first. That is respecting who you are as a person, your identity, what values you have, what needs you have, your goals, your emotions, and that it is okay for you to be you.

A healthy emotional boundary is not an all-or-nothing thing. We’re human beings. None of us are perfect. We all have room to grow and improve ourselves. It’s alright for someone else to have an opinion.

A healthy emotional boundary doesn’t mean you just automatically discard all dissenting opinions. Instead, you want to pick it up, look at it, consider whether it has any validity, and then put it back down.

These boundaries that you build should make it easier to do that. They should also make it easier for you to withstand when other people are trying to force their perspective on you, as may happen in a relationship…

“Oh, you should be this” or “Oh, you should do that” when in reality, all you should do is strive to be a healthier person than you were yesterday. Other people may think they know what’s best for you, but they don’t. You have to figure that out for yourself.

There are so many different areas where emotional boundaries come into play and endless examples within those areas. These areas and examples include:

Time – don’t over-commit, and don’t commit to things that you don’t want to do.

  1. Ask for help without feeling guilty.
  2. Delegate tasks to other people when you have too much to do.
  3. Say no to people because you don’t want to do the thing or don’t have time to do the thing.
  4. Take personal time for yourself to re-center and re-balance without guilt.

Personal – don’t agree or accept behavior that does not respect you.

  1. Don’t let people lie to, bully, or deceive you.
  2. Speak up if you feel your needs aren’t being met.
  3. Don’t accept responsibility, guilt, or apologize for the actions of anyone else.
  4. Value your own perspective and experience.

Relationships – don’t accept continuously bad or disrespectful behavior.

  1. Don’t wait around on people who can’t show up on time or respect their commitments.
  2. Don’t waste your time with wishy-washy people.
  3. Don’t allow a partner to coerce or manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do.
  4. Don’t allow other peoples’ problems to dictate your life.

The great thing about setting and having healthy emotional boundaries is that it keeps people away who will not respect them.

The time that you lose trying to make those bad connections work is time that you gain to forge new relationships with healthier people.

It’s also a great deal of emotional energy that you are no longer pouring out without anyone pouring back into you.

Don’t expect setting boundaries to be a smooth or painless process, either. Reestablishing boundaries with the people in your life will likely cause some arguments and conflicts, and that’s okay. Conflict is a natural part of human interaction.

What matters is how they respond to it over time. If they respect you, they will respect your growth and desire to be a healthier person. It may take some getting used to, but they’ll at least try.

If they don’t try, well, then it’s time to really examine whether or not this is a relationship that you need in your life.

Still not sure how to go about setting healthy emotional boundaries? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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