Many of my clients have trouble maintaining healthy boundaries. They are either people-pleasers, or they're highly sensitive people, or empaths, who naturally take on the feelings and emotions of others. Many also grew up in households where healthy boundaries were not modeled. What are the keys to healthy boundaries? We'll cover five things you must do to have healthy boundaries.
Healthy boundaries are very intricately tied to our sense of self and our sense of self-worth.
Having healthy boundaries is also about taking personal responsibility without either playing the victim or the martyr, or without blaming other people.
Once you start to think about this more regularly and look at how this plays out for yourself, you will see that a vast majority of the people that you interact with have some difficulty with maintaining healthy boundaries.
Key to healthy boundaries #1: Protect your physical space
The first key to healthy boundaries is keeping your physical space safe. Hopefully, this is one thing you were taught growing up.
My body belongs to me, and it's not okay for somebody else to touch it inappropriately or without my permission, and your body belongs to you.
This also goes along with social situations and touch. It can be very difficult for people who have experienced abuse to be comfortable receiving touch, even where it's simply meant as a sign of communication, or a sign of affection for someone.
Also, I have a few friends right now who are very pregnant. I saw them both recently, and I immediately wanted to touch their bellies! (Why do we want to do that with pregnant women? I know it's not just me!)
But I stopped myself. I thought, "Alright, that is not an appropriate thing, just because we are friends. I can't just reach out and touch the belly." (I asked first if it was ok. 🙂 )
If someone was not pregnant, would you walk up to them and put your hand on their belly? Probably not.
So protect your physical space, by protecting your body and what's okay and what's not. Also do your best to have an awareness of what other people are comfortable with, with physical touch.
Key to healthy boundaries #2: Protect your mental space
The second critical key to having healthy boundaries is protecting your mental space. When I say protect your mental space, what I'm talking about is protecting your thoughts.
Your thoughts are critically important. If you've grown up in an environment where you were not supported, you probably hear the voices of whoever raised you, whether your parents or other family members, maybe even teachers, or coaches, who were saying negative things towards you instead of supporting you.
One of the first things you want to do to protect your mental boundaries is to get those voices out of your head! Stop paying attention to them. Stop listening to them. Don't give them time in your mental world.
In addition to that, how do you talk to yourself? You want to convey positive, uplifting, supportive thoughts to yourself, not things that are going to wear you down and beat you up.
Protect your mental space by paying attention to your thoughts.
Get rid of all negative thoughts. Think about things that are healthy, that are positive, supportive and uplifting.
And don't worry what other people might be thinking about you!
Other people are going to judge you, regardless of what you do. That's just the nature of human beings. So don't worry about it, let it go.
Get rid of the focus on what other people are thinking, and keep your thoughts positive and focused on you, and the beautiful person that you are and all the good that you are bringing into the world.
Key to healthy boundaries #3: Protect your emotional space
A third key to healthy boundaries is to protect your emotional space, your feelings.
You are the person who is responsible for how you feel. No one else is responsible for what you feel.
We often hear little children say, you know, "Mommy, he hurt my feelings", or "she made me feel bad." And we just say oh, they need to say they're sorry, and you need to respond in a different way.
But ultimately, it is more empowering and more truthful to realize that no one can make me feel bad unless I let them. I am responsible for how I feel.
If your spouse comes home, and they've had a crappy day at work, and they're in a bad mood, you don't have to let that change you and get you out of your happy space and your good mood. You don't have to take upon the that negativity that that person is bringing into your household.
So take responsibility for your own feelings, and also allow other people to take respond ability for theirs as well. They are responsible for how they feel, just as you are responsible for how you feel.
Now a second part of having good boundaries with your emotions, is for those of you who are highly sensitive people, or who are empaths.
If you're an empath, what that means, in one sense is that you very literally feel the emotions of others, you don't just see them coming and say, Oh, I can tell they're angry, by the way that they look, you actually physically feel the anger that the other person is feeling.
Literally feeling the emotions of others requires much more awareness and constant vigilance around other people to make sure that you do not absorb those emotions from others, and that you keep yourself in your own safe little space.
One way that you can do this is to envision yourself surrounded by a circle or a bubble of white light.
This white light is love, and lightness and joy. And it keeps out any negativity that's coming into you from anyone else.
If you know that you're an empath, and you're taking upon yourself the the emotions of other people, practice creating an imaginative bubble that you can walk around in all day, which only lets the uplifting and positive emotions in.
Key to healthy boundaries #4: Protect your spirit
The next key to having healthy boundaries is to protect your spirit. This is also about how you feel, but in a different way.
Your spirit, that is the life force within you, is meant to be joyful, and happy and vibrant and full of life. So this requires another level of awareness.
Tune into how you feel when you go into different places.
How do you feel when you're around different people? How do you feel when you're listening to certain types of music, or watching TV shows or movies? How do you feel when you read your favorite magazine or book? Start noticing how you actually feel when you walk into someone's house, or when you walk into a certain restaurant, or go to a certain event.
How do you feel inside?
Do you feel calm and peaceful inside when you're at different places, or listening to certain music? Or do you feel any sort of imbalance?
It doesn't have to necessarily be negativity, but you might feel fear or irritability. Or you might even just feel some sense of anxiety or like something's not just quite right, but you can't exactly figure out what it is.
Pay attention to how you feel. That's your spirit talking to you.
When you listen to music, play the music and maybe close your eyes. And notice how that makes you feel inside.
When you watch TV shows or movies do the same thing. How do you feel? Does it make you feel happy and light-hearted? Or does it bring out feelings of fear or anger or depression or sadness or whatever it may be?
Now, a good movie is is meant to take you through different emotional states. But if you're absorbing those emotions, if you're an empath, you really don't want to be consuming a lot of media that's taking you through negative states, because now it's a part of your being instead of just a transitory thing that you've experienced. So protect your spirit, protect the way that you feel.
Part of healthy boundaries is about saying no.
Saying no for your physical body, for your emotions, for your thoughts. And for the places that you go, it's okay to tell your friends, you know what, I don't want to go see that movie. Maybe you explain to them why you don't want to go to this particular place. I don't want to be around these people. That's you setting healthy boundaries for yourself.
Key to healthy boundaries #5: Take care of yourself
The fifth thing that you must do for healthy boundaries is of course, take care of yourself.
If you have not, or are not taking care of yourself, then you can't do a good job of helping and taking care of others. And you're less likely actually to maintain these healthy boundaries.
Do whatever you need to do, to relax, to enjoy, to de-stress.
To keep yourself grounded, literally go outside and spend time in nature. That is one of the best things that you can do to help yourself stay grounded and to shed any feelings, emotions, thoughts, anything that you might have taken on from other people or other places or other experiences.
Spend time outdoors in nature.
Find things that make you feel happy and joyful and get rid of your stress. Whether that's exercise, cooking, being creative in some way, drawing, coloring, doing pottery, playing music, playing sports, whatever makes you feel good, and involves moving your physical body and getting yourself to be recharged.
You can meditate, or practice yoga, or get a massage, anything that helps you feel better about you and helps you get centered again.
We kind of get our perspective thrown off as we go about our days because we encounter so much stimulus. Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, you need time to kind of come back and get re-centered within yourself.
Even though it's the last thing on the list, it's probably the most important thing you can do is to take time for yourself.
So take a look at your life and these five areas with these boundaries and see how well you're doing. And just pick one simple thing that you can pay attention to this week, or that you can change in your life and just notice how you feel.