Importance of Personal Boundaries

Not that I’m old right now, but there was a phase during my youth when I had no understanding or sense of personal space. I would barge into uninvited conversations, persistently try reaching out to my friends and the likes. It is only in due time have I understood how terrible I was at the time. 

Does it happen to you, that you have set your own boundaries in life? Those whose sanctity you uphold at all times? Can we see some examples?

  • Your girlfriend insists on checking your mobile phone and even offers you hers
  • The store assistant suggests you try something in pastel shades because your complexion is brown or the steward who doesn’t disclose expensive dishes because he feels you would just not afford it. 
  • You come home to find your cousin is wearing your favorite t-shirt
  • Friends who comment on you but insist you should take it sportily because “everything’s is fair in friendships” (their quote)
  • Your boss applies for a conference on your behalf and just informs you that you’re going even without asking if you could
  • The colleague who picks the hand of people sitting besides during intercations

What are Personal Boundaries?

The University of California, Berkeley’s University Health Service defines personal boundaries as those which “are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships.” These differ from person to person, based on their personality types and the culture in which they have been raised. In some cultures, it’s perfectly acceptable behavior to inquire about your wedding, when you’d be having kids (and the second one if you’ve already had one) and your salary. Some find it offensive.  

In this context, there would be people with three distinctive types of personal boundaries-

  1. Rigid: Those who set absolutely rigid personal boundaries and hence have very few close relationships. They do not allow anyone to cross those boundaries ever, even their spouses. When such boundaries are crossed, such people can feel offended and may even distance themselves from such friendships or relationships.
  2. Porous: Those who just want to please others, come what may, and would bend backwards to do so, even at the cost of sacrificing their personal boundaries. They are always eager to let someone trample upon their personal space just so that they don’t appear rude or unfriendly or lose a friendship or relationship. This leaves their personal space open to be trampled upon over and over again. 
  3. Healthy: These people set their own boundaries which are not too rigid but reasonable. They show empathy and reach out to people when needed but also maintain their own personal space at the same time. 

So what constitutes personal boundaries?

Anything that is yours, in a personal sense. The physical distance that you maintain from others, the leeway you give others to behave with you or come in close proximity to you to take personal liberties in many ways. 

Physical boundaries are very easy to demarcate and also to be understood when they’re set or broken. Normally, people are not comfortable when you go within a radius of 3 feet from where they stand. There are exceptions to friends and loved ones, but these boundaries are reset for them. When you penetrate that boundary, the person will feel offended but may not express and just move afar. 

Passionate boundaries are when you set a limit to how close someone can come that would otherwise denote his/her sexual interest in you. Gently placing a hand on the shoulder or back could also mean transgression to someone who doesn’t appreciate this behavior. When it happens, move back and also, let it know. Others will not know until you express at the first time itself. 

Time boundaries are set when you decide how much time you would want to willingly spend on something or with someone. Prioritize what you want to do with your day and set internal alarms to move on to the next scheduled task when your allotted time is over. That way, you end up allocating judicious time to each task and accomplish more in the same 24 hour day. Let others know you value your time and theirs and you’re set to start and end something in time. 

Belongings, also have boundaries, as in what and how much that belongs to you can you share. I have a cousin who owns hundreds of books which form an enviable collection. Anyone who visits his study just picks up a book and asks to take it home. He smiles and politely declines, while offering to let the person read it sitting at the study for as much time as needed. He has learnt his lesson when people just didn’t return his loaned books. He set his boundary and has never budged from it ever since. I know people who pick up stuff randomly from anyone’s house and ask to take it. Or borrow things, handle, play with and use without even asking. Many times, it helps to make known what is acceptable to be touched, used or taken and what is not. People may feel offended at first, but it makes matters easier for all. 

Too many times, people who define and stick to their personal boundaries are labeled as lacking empathy and not being friendly enough. I also know of several people who keep quiet even when their boundaries are crossed simply because they feel guilty of expressing their boundaries for fear of losing people. They may also suffer in forming and maintaining relationships because of this. However, it isn’t a wrong idea to form and stick to your boundaries. Those who respect you with those, will anyway come around and stay. 

The key here is to subtly express your boundaries and be firm when push comes to shove, without sounding brash. Boundaries are not meant to keep people away, they’re just there to let others know what you value and how much. If that offends someone, so be it. 

What are some of the personal boundaries that you have put in your life? How do you deal with anyone breaching them? I would love to hear from you. 

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