What comes to your mind when you hear the word “boundary”?
Dictionary.com literally defines the word as “something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line.”
As a kid who grew up somewhat influenced by the evangelical purity culture, my first thought used to go to physical boundaries within dating relationships. That’s what my mind associated with boundaries. Dating. I honestly had no clue that boundaries had a place outside of conversations about physical boundaries. It never once crossed my mind.
Over the last few months, my eyes have been opened to the big world of personal boundaries. If you’re confused or overwhelmed by the topic of boundaries, this post is for you. Here’s what I have learned from my personal experiences.
What are boundaries?
“Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”
-The ever-reputable Wikipedia
As humans, we have limitations. Because of our limitations, be it physical, emotional, relational or material, we need to know how to protect ourselves in our interactions with other people without overreaching our abilities. This is something that is especially hard for me because I genuinely love helping people and taking care of people. But I am learning that I can only help people well when I have first taken care of my own physical and emotional health. When people overstep healthy boundaries, I need to respond.
To give you a better idea of what boundaries are, I want to chat about emotional and material boundaries a little more.
Emotional boundaries protect your mental energy. This is especially critical for people who live with mentally draining health struggles like depression or anxiety.
For example, here is a situation where emotional boundaries may be helpful.
A friend who isn’t in danger but wants to talk is ranting to you about a painful experience. You aren’t in the emotional headspace to handle it very well. You find yourself irritated and overwhelmed. Instead of being a bad, irritated listener, try being honest with your friend. Maybe say something like, “I really care about you and your situation, but I am not in a mental place where I can hold space for you to be heard. Can we talk about this tomorrow?” By recognizing your emotional limitations and allowing yourself time to rest and recharge, you will help both yourself and your friend. You will be capable of listening without harming your own mental health, and your friend will feel heard.
Material boundaries are especially hard for people with generous hearts. Generosity is biblical and beautiful. But if we aren’t mindful, foolishness can masquerade as generosity.
Here is a situation where having material boundaries is important.
Your friend has been borrowing money from you and has promised to pay you back, but they keep coming to you for more money. Giving your friend more money seems worth it to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation. You want to be kind too, but you’re barely making enough to pay for your own bills. Instead of continuing to loan money to your friend, try setting a boundary by saying, “I would love to help you out, but I am not able to continue helping you financially. Is there anything else I can do to help you?” This shows your care and interest in your friend but also acknowledges your limitations.
These are just two examples of two kinds of boundaries, but the applications are truly endless.
Why you need boundaries
Boundaries prevent burnout. Because of the personal limitations we live with, most of us are also familiar with the concept of burnout. Personal boundaries protect us from burnout. They allow us to “budget” our energy, both emotional and physical.
Boundaries empower. When you accept your limitations, you can confidently help other without the fear of burning out. Contrary to popular belief, boundaries are not selfish. In my experience with setting and keeping personal boundaries, I have been able to help people so much better than before. Accepting my limits is not a defeat. You might even find that the knowledge you gain is invaluably empowering.
As much as we would love to be limitless, we are not. We cannot do everything we would like. We cannot be everything to everyone. We cannot help everyone with everything.
Boundaries help us make the most of our limitations so we can take care of ourselves and help others with fearless confidence and compassion.
What is your experience with personal boundaries? How can they help you live better?
Let’s chat in the comments!