Healthy boundaries are formed when we contain ourselves in a way that supports our ultimate health. The purpose of boundaries is to maintain life and well being. Awareness of boundaries is necessary for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. During the therapeutic process, while helping others to create a life that they feel positive about, we often engage in a process that ultimately rearranges personal boundaries; sometimes these are physical, sometimes emotional, often mental, and at times spiritual. Understanding and owning our personal boundaries and the movement of them over time is part of becoming a healthy functioning adult in the world. We learn how to set boundaries as we are growing in the world. If we think about whom our role models are/were, we can identify where we might have learned how to set boundaries. Early important relationships often tell the story of our boundary-setting habits. In a simple example of healthy physical boundary setting, it is a parent’s job to keep a child out of harms way. For instance, when my first-born was a toddler, I had to figure out how to teach him not to touch the wood stove in our kitchen. I attempted to do this by keeping him at a safe distance from it by placing a boundary around it. As he became more mobile and curious, I also went through a process of holding his hand near the stove so he could feel the heat and repeating, ”hot!” over and over again followed by pulling his hand away quickly in hopes that he would not find out the hard way by putting his hand directly on the stove. When we are speaking of physical health, we recognize boundaries as keeping ourselves in places that will not risk harm, or by learning skills necessary to remain safe as we put ourselves at risk, such as when mountain climbing or skiing.
When we consider emotional health, much of this has to do with our personal choices and how we exercise our personal power in creating our life. Learning healthy emotional boundaries at a young age means learning the skills of expressing emotion in a safe place, i.e. someone being your container as you discharge emotional content as in crying, yelling, or trembling with fear. Then in the ideal situation, the helper would have you talk about your feelings and make sense of the experience. Later we learn to utilize our emotion as useful energy, leading us in particular directions that help us maintain our healthy boundaries rather than put us at risk. For instance anger is a key emotion in letting us know we need to look at our boundaries. If we are in a relationship where we find ourselves chronically angry with the other, we have been unable or unwilling to change the boundaries for inducing healthy relations. In order to ameliorate the circumstances, it is critical to change some boundaries, i.e. more talking, less talking, change of language, change of behavior, or some other modification of interactions. Continuing without some change, we often set ourselves up for more of the same emotion. Our inability to create healthy emotional boundaries leads to unhappiness.
Our mental process can contribute to or diminish our satisfaction and enjoyment of life. Our mind is a tool to be used in service to our achieving a fulfilling life experience. The mind can be likened to a muscle in that without proper conditioning it does not serve us well. Mental conditioning means learning to train our mental process to focus on that which we might benefit from, to process information, to expand our knowledge and to use critical thought to assist in our decision-making. One of the best ways to train the mind for self-directed use is meditation. It is our responsibility to put boundaries on where our mind goes and how it is used. For instance, if you find yourself chronically thinking in a critical manner about yourself, it is important to arrest this habit, to learn how to redirect the mind and to utilize thinking to enhance our lives, not to deteriorate our sense of worthiness. These are internal boundaries that we are all capable of setting with the proper effort. In order to be guided out of a current pattern, sometimes assistance is needed.
When it comes to spiritual boundaries, the topic is endless depending on one’s interests. I would save this discussion for those personally seeking dialogue on the topic.
Boundaries can be thought about in the physical sense – like a fence. It is easy to imagine putting a fence around something to keep it contained. This image can be used as a metaphor for the types of boundaries considered here. For instance, when adopting healthy mental boundaries, we would imagine putting a wall around damaging thoughts and sending them out of our minds, replacing them with more beneficial statements. In creating emotional health, we consider increasing the distance (be it physical or in connection and communication) between ourselves and those that cause us pain until the pain can no longer be inflicted. Most of the time we can imagine an image such as this with any example we might be working on.
Healthy boundary setting is a critical step in creating an internally and externally peaceful life. For those attached to chaos, or unable to stay quiet within, not dealing with boundaries is a way to maintain the status quo. If you find yourself unable to make healthy decisions or changes when it comes to boundaries, and you are committed to creating a fulfilling life, looking for assistance to gain this critical life skill may be your answer. The time spent is always worth the benefits that follow.