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Good fences make healthy boundaries

March 11, 2021 — 

Healthy U is a student group of trained volunteers dedicated to educating fellow students on important health-related matters. This article was prepared by a Healthy U student volunteer.

Imagine your life contained in a house with a fence around it to mark where your property ends and your neighbour’s begins. If you woke up one day and noticed your neighbor had torn down part of your fence and built a shed in your yard, you would have good reason to tell them that you weren’t okay with what they had done. Boundaries are like metaphorical fences; they represent our limits, individuality and values that protect the environment of our lives.

There are many kinds of boundaries. They can evolve with time and some might be more concrete than others. Here are some to consider for your fence building journey:

Physical Boundaries include your personal bubble, your right to privacy and your physical needs, like rest. For example, for your safety during the pandemic, you’re happy to go on socially distanced walks with friends but not spend time with them indoors. To communicate this to someone who invites you over to their house, try saying: “Thanks for inviting me! I’d love to come over when it’s safe to, but for now I’d prefer to hang out outside. How about a walk?”

Emotional or Mental Boundaries separate your feelings from someone else’s and allow you to only be responsible for your own feelings. For example, after lunch with a friend who is going through hard times, try telling yourself that their struggles are not your own, so you don’t feel sad for the rest of the day.

Sexual Boundaries include your right to consent, the kinds of sexual acts you want to perform or receive, or who you want to be intimate with. For example, you decide that you feel comfortable with oral sex but not penetrative sex. This boundary involves consent, which is important to check in on and express before and during sex. To start the conversation, you can say, “I like when you…” or “I enjoy…” and “I don’t enjoy…”

Time Boundaries include protecting the ways you spend your time and preventing overwork. For example, when you’re swamped with school work, you let your co-worker know that you won’t be able to pick up an extra shift because you need to study.

It’s normal for it to be challenging and uncomfortable to vocalize and maintain boundaries. This is especially true for people we live with or close friends, because they may push your boundaries without knowing. Expressing your limits may come as a shock to some.

Our past experiences will also influence where we feel our limits should be. Some people are used to having their fences crossed. Others may put up very strong fences as soon as they meet new people and some may feel like they can’t put up any at all.

It can take a lifetime to develop boundaries. Bringing awareness to your fences and slowly integrating small practices, like saying no more often, can prevent unnecessary stressors and lead to a happier and healthier life!

Healthy U volunteers can help you with the practice of setting boundaries, and much more. Learn more about Healthy U.

References:

Positive Psychology – How to Set Healthy Boundaries
Road to Growth Counselling – Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships
Psych Central – 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries
Love is Respect – What Are My Boundaries?

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