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Boundaries: How, When, and Where to Draw the Line.

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Healthy boundaries can result in a more relaxed, calm life.

A boy in a barely lit hallway peaking around the corner into a very dark room.
Photo Credit: Ammar Sabaa/Unsplash

As a young, innocent, and trusting child, I believed the people of the world to be good, caring, and helpful. One day as I was roller-skating around a quiet church building with other neighborhood kids, a man approached us. "Can you help me find my eye contact?" he asked. "I lost it behind the church."

All of us little people were excited to help someone in need. We had no idea it was a ploy to cause harm. When we all were in the location where the missing contact was, he said, "Turn around and look at me." We turned. Then instantly froze with fear at what we witnessed. "UGH!"

He undressed and proceeded to do things to his own naked body. We were in trouble. I voiced my thoughts. "Mom is coming," I said assertively. "If you don't get out of here by the count of three, we will start screaming. One, two, three!" Screaming, the other children followed my lead as I skated out of the area where he had us cornered. We all made it to safety.

That is one time in which I said, "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!" But the second part of this was telling our parents what had happened. My parents were the last to hear. I went with each neighbor kid to their house as they told their parents. Their parents were horrified and called the police.

Then we went to my house. I told my parents, but I didn't get the same reaction. They laughed, "Did you get some education?" That hurt and was probably another reason why I don't ask others for help. Being assertive was my example of having a healthy boundary that protected me, followed by the beginning of an unhealthy boundary of not reaching out for help when needed.

Having healthy boundaries is vital for everyone.

If you are neurodiverse like I am, it is essential to develop the skill of healthy boundaries. I never really understood boundaries. I know I don't particularly appreciate being mistreated. I keep people away from me and can be firm about anyone mistreating me.

But somehow, I've struggled with boundaries over the years, not realizing I was even struggling. My boundaries are weak. Having healthy boundaries is a skill one can learn. it takes being assertive, direct, practice, and not giving up. Read on to learn more about what boundaries are, why they matter, and how to begin to develop the skill of setting boundaries. I included a few more resources to help build those healthy boundary skills.

What Are Boundaries?

I love the word "non-negotiable." It's a great way to describe what boundaries are. Boundaries are the limits or the absolute non-negotiable behaviors we will allow or tolerate from people. No physical harm is one of mine. Could you give me my space? Respect my thoughts is a 3rd.

P.E.M.S. is my secret little memory cue for Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. These are at least four types of boundaries one can and should have. But there are seven types of boundaries described in the book "How to Establish Boundaries" by Patrick King. This is an excellent book. He describes physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, material, time, and energy boundaries. Seeing these seven different boundary types was an eye-opener for me.

  • Physical Boundaries: I hadn't realized that I was worthy of taking up space and take care of my own needs. My self-worth was so low I felt I needed to apologize for being alive and apologize that my two feet took up room on this planet. I'm grateful to realize I'm allowed to be present, take up space, and care for my personal needs.

  • Emotional boundaries: I get to have feelings. No one can tell me how I feel. I feel however I feel. I'm allowed to feel happy, sad, angry, disappointed, scared, anxious, overwhelmed, and so forth. My feelings are valid and should be recognized and acknowledged.

  • Mental Boundaries: I understand myself. I know my unique way of being in this world. I know what is best for me. I make my own decisions, choices and have my own thoughts.

  • Spiritual Boundaries: I don't have to do what everyone else does. I am unique. I can feed my soul in the manner that I choose.

  • Material Boundaries: I can choose to spend my money on what I decide is best for me. I have different needs, desires, and interests. I allow myself the freedom to use my money and material possessions in the manner best for me. I have a right to my things. I have a right to protect my things. There was a time in my life when I felt I had to give, and give, and give even though I didn't have anything to offer. I was probably more impoverished than the people I would give to. I once gave my last $20 to someone holding a sign asking for food. I went hungry that day.

  • Time Boundaries: I love music. I love to play the drums. Most people look down on my love for drumming. But I take time to practice and develop my skills on the drums. I have had to set boundaries in this area and say no to more of other things taking my time. I want to develop my skills in drumming, and I need practice time to do that.

  • Energy Boundaries: I am now keenly aware of how much social activities drain my energy. I now limit and distance myself from energy drains. I had given much of my time and energy towards volunteering. I had believed I should always say yes regardless of my own needs. I felt and still do believe in the importance of serving others and helping. But I was doing more than I could physically handle. I was performing at a considerable cost to my well-being. I ended up physically ill and no longer able to give in the way I use to. I had to make a change and force some boundaries to keep myself healthy.

Why Do Boundaries Matter?

Having healthy boundaries helps you to know yourself better and how you want others to treat you. Knowing your limits helps with interaction, understanding, and expectations with family, friends, acquaintances, professionals, and all who engage with you. It helps you know ahead of time when something isn't acceptable for you. It enables you to understand how to let others know your boundaries and what treatment you expect.

I believed I had to say yes to others for many years, or I would be worthless. I fell into the belief that success only comes by saying yes to everything that comes your way. I believed in the idea of "Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterward." My Church says, "Give of your time, money, and talents." that has exhausted me.

I thought to be liked and have value; I had to follow the crowd and do what others do to be accepted. It has broken me as a person. It has broken my spirit, well-being, and physical health. In the end, I still find myself bullied when others don't understand me.

In the past, I had to draw a solid boundary to keep myself safe from others who I had thought were friends and ended up being quite harmful and abusive. That was hard, but I'm so grateful I stood my ground and stayed firm in what I felt and thought. I can give several detailed examples, but I will say that I walked away from manipulating people who have harmed me in the past.

I've given a great deal of my time to serving others. "Will you play the organ this Sunday, then again next week for the Christmas Program? Can you give a lesson in church? Can you be in charge of the Christmas concert? Will you teach a class?" I was asked all at once. "Yes!" I answered. But 5 minutes before I was to begin playing, I collapsed in another room and couldn't move for about 45 minutes.

I was overwhelmed. Later that day, I received text message after text message, "You need to get help!" over and over again. "Ouch!" I placed a hand on my heart. That hurt my feelings. "Yes, please help me by understanding that I have limits and can't do as much as I'm being asked to do," I said to myself.

No one understood why I had collapsed. Only I understood. I was giving time I didn't have, and it took my health. I'm at a point where I can no longer provide service to others except in small ways. I have to be firm in letting people know this, even if they are trying to convince me otherwise.

I have a family responsibility, and being too sick to be a supportive family member isn't right. Family first is my rule. So that is a boundary I now have. But I also have a limit with abusive family members. If a family member is abusive or doesn't respect my boundaries, I distance myself from them.

I have set work boundaries also. I am disabled but can work. I must modify every environment I am in to be successful, or my disability will become so great I cannot cope or work and will be bedridden. So I need to have boundaries in what I allow myself exposure to and how much time I spend working. I have to modify everything to stay functioning and healthy. I can no longer do every training or task I'm asked to do. I am to the point of changing careers to one that is better suited for my disabilities.

I'm very goal-oriented, but I've allowed my goals to change from trying to be the "Can do it all" person to goals that deeply matter to me and what I really think is essential in life. I asked myself, "What matters most to me if I only had a year left to live?" I stepped into that reality. My goals significantly changed. My answer, "More walks through a grove of trees and enjoying precious sunlight."

Now I do far less people-pleasing and focus more on personal goals. Now I have a better knowledge of boundaries and the importance to my well-being. It has helped me stay focused on boundaries, and as a result, I am making beautiful changes in my life. some of the most challenging boundaries I've faced have been abusive situations or finding myself in situations that go against my values. In these situations, fear can take over. It is good to plan how to draw boundaries in difficult situations to know who you are and what you will and won't allow or do when fear takes over. It is empowering and helps me feel more safe and calm.

"A violated boundary is a signal to us to protect ourselves when necessary." --- Patrick King

How Do You Develop the Skill of Setting Boundaries?

I wish I had understood healthy boundaries when a man four years older than me stalked me. I was very young and had just moved out of my parent's house into a tiny apartment. The man would come at all hours and bang on my door, "I know you're in there." He would say. Chills crawled all over my body as his words penetrated my ears.

He would harass me, threaten me through the door, and try to get in. I kept calling the police, and he would get escorted off the property, but it didn't stop him from coming back later that day or in the middle of the night. One night he managed to break in through a window. it was the most alarming and scary thing I had experienced.

After that break-in, I took all signs of life in the apartment out. I made it appear that the apartment was vacant. I lived that way for several months while I waited for an apartment to be available for me that was located far away from this individual. I spent several months in fear.

I remained in fear even after I moved out. It took quite a while for me to relax and feel safe finally. I wish I knew how to protect myself better. It felt like a prison. Could I have handled this better? Did I not set boundaries here? Why did this individual feel he had a right to break in?

If it were ever to happen again, what would or should I do? In this situation and something similar, a restraining order probably should have happened. I didn't do it. I'm glad I made an effort to leave the area. I didn't stay where I was in danger.

It is excellent news to know boundary setting is a learned skill. Our boundaries always need to be modified and adapted. It is in constant change. Mariana Bockarova Ph.D. suggested one method that I am trying in her article, 4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries. She offers to define your non-negotiable limits in each category and relationships clearly.

  1. I started my boundary check with what matters to me right now. I'm not too fond of unexpected changes or interference with my plans. I let people know they can't just demand me to change my plans because they had a sudden burst of energy and idea. I have a set schedule and like my day to go accordingly. I like to plan, and I ask for people to allow for that.

  2. I also have a communication disability. I set boundaries on how people should communicate with me. I set boundaries on how people should interact with me. I don't tolerate negative, overwhelming, or overbearing behaviors.

To set a boundary, I review my past experiences and analyze where I need to make better boundaries and plan to do that. I examine each discomfort I experience to try and communicate my boundaries better to others.

There are boundaries I'm working on now. One is about being underestimated by others. I also get very frustrated when dealing with the medical world. I like being in charge of my health. I like knowing all the options and alternatives. It is essential for me to feel respected by others as a human being and how I present in the world. I like my home, time, and ideas appreciated also.

Final Note

When setting boundaries, it is essential to analyze past experiences. Realize that boundaries are constantly changing depending on new experiences. It is necessary to be assertive, direct, practice, and not to give up. Voice your limits first, followed by action. Always know for sure what is non-negotiable for you. Here are a few more resources to help strengthen boundaries.

  1. Kindle Book by Patrick King: How to Establish Boundaries

  2. Where to Draw the Line Kindle e-book by Anne Katherine M.A.

  3. The Art of Everyday Assertiveness Kindle e-book by Patrick King

  4. Free PDF: Boundaries analyzer worksheet

I hope that setting boundaries, voicing them, and being assertive, brings you reassurance in your life and situations. Hopefully, this path of boundary setting will let go of worries followed by being more relaxed and a feeling of all is well in your life.

I also hope setting boundaries will allow you to step back from the concerning situations and allow for a bigger view of what is happening and how to handle it. Hopefully, it will help you let go of the triggering emotions that can occur. Instead of offensive backfire, you will take the situation with actions that are best for each case. I hope you may have many years of feeling more inner peace instead of struggle.


Bobbi Lynn Gibson

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Want to learn more about boundaries or other topics? I dive more deeply into subjects in my courses. I invite you to click on the link to learn more.

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