What is a Boundary and Why is it Important?

Jun 13, 2024

What is a boundary?

A boundary is your furthest limit. Just like with countries, the furthest limit is the border or boundary. The purpose of boundaries is to keep us safe and protect the things we value. Without boundaries, we would have no reference for what decisions are safe to make, because boundaries define where you end and other people begin. Healthy boundaries are the foundation of healthy relationships. Without boundaries we can be taken advantage of, we hurt ourselves, we become enmeshed with others and form coalitions of collusion that we probably don’t want to be in. Boundaries state that we are independent and separate from others in healthy ways. Without boundaries, we are like a marmalade of blended fruits together without any separation or knowledge of where others end and we begin. With boundaries we are more like a fruit salad. Each piece is independent and contributes to the delicious whole. We see this often with people who try to “Fit In” and with people who play the Nice Guy or Nice Girl.

Boundaries are the basis of healthy relationships

Boundaries create balanced relationships. They protect each person's values, which helps build peaceful relationships. Let’s take the Canada-U.S. border as our example. The boundary between these two countries defines what land the U.S. governs and what land Canada governs. This border protects each country’s values by creating a line that the other may not cross. If the U.S. were to take over Alberta, Canada, Canada would declare war because the U.S. would’ve overstepped the boundary. Boundaries help to define what is important to individual people and protect those things so that we can build healthy, peaceful relationships.

A boundary answers a simple question. How far are you willing to go? What behavior is “okay” and what is “not okay” for you? What do you value and what will you not tolerate? 

The importance of boundaries is often twisted by “niceness”.

Boundaries can be difficult, especially in a society where so much value is placed on being “nice”. We are taught to always be polite and to never make anyone else feel uncomfortable, even when it comes at the expense of our own comfort. 

“Niceness” is deceiving. It seems like a valuable trait to have because nice people are well liked, but the reality is that nice people aren’t being authentic. The goal of “niceness” is to uphold the comfort of other people because it is driven by a need to be perceived favorably. This leads to nice people being taken advantage of because they give up their own needs for the sake of other people’s comfort. Niceness is the counterfeit of kindness.

Kindness is an authentic emotion, which means it is driven by love– love for others and love for oneself. When we are kind we are honest about our thoughts, feelings, and needs. We can respect people and hold boundaries. 

The first step to making boundaries is turning niceness into kindness. We have to stop worrying about how other people perceive us and start listening to what our own hearts need. It is kind to hold a boundary.

What do Boundaries Look Like?

When setting boundaries, it is crucial to understand that we cannot set boundaries for other people. We cannot control the actions of other people. We can only choose our own actions and reactions. When other people overstep boundaries, we uphold the boundary by taking some sort of action that reaffirms it. This might look like leaving the situation or creating space between yourself and the other person.

Boundaries can be stated with words but they are not truly communicated until we take action. We can say, “I am not okay with being yelled at, therefore I am going to remove myself from the situation when someone starts yelling” all day long, but it is not communicated until we take action. It's not until we are in a conversation where someone is raging and yelling and we respectfully leave the room. That is when the boundary is communicated. That's when we communicate to ourselves and to the person yelling that we are serious about this. 

To set a boundary, decide what things you value and what behaviors you will not tolerate from other people, and then take action. You may value having alone time to recharge or having free time to spend with your kids. Taking action for these values could look like keeping a consistent work schedule and not taking on any extra tasks. Behaviors you won’t tolerate from other people could be something like gossiping. To take action, you could shift the conversation to a new topic when someone gossips to you or leave the situation. 

Boundaries are held by our actions.

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