Boundaries are important - they define who we are and how and what we are in relation to others. Others crossing our boundaries can feel highly threatening and make us feel small, fearful or even angry.
It is the physical and emotional space we need around us to make us feel safe and connected. At the same time boundaries protect our sense of being and allows us to be in a healthy connection to others.
Most of us will experience an impingement of our boundaries at some point in our life. It is part of human existence as we come to the world as babies with little sense of boundaries, starting from our lack of clearly defined sense of our bodies to a lack of sense of identity itself. We need to define who we are and learn where our boundaries start and end. Many times our boundaries will be intruded on - it is unavoidable. As a baby we are almost one with our caretaker and this closeness is important until we learn to regulate our bodies and emotions ourselves and develop our own sense of being. It depends largely on those around us and their sense of ease with their own boundaries how we will feel about boundaries later on in life.
Many patients I see struggle with boundaries: They can feel that they constantly need to protect themselves from others being intrusive and the fear of loosing one's own identity in the process. As a result of this, they do not let anyone get very close to them and often end up being very lonely or unable to have long-term close relationships. Others find it hard to stick to their boundaries out of a sense of guilt, which has been instilled into them for being too selfish or too harsh by asking for their own space. The latter will often endure others impinging on their space and never really allowing themselves to be their own person, ending up very anxious and unable to stand on their own feet. Some might constantly fluctuate from wanting to be so close as they cannot bear any sense of loneliness, but then feeling overwhelmed by this closeness and needing to push the other person away. It seems impossible for them to ever being able to negotiate and create the right amount of distance to others. What follows is often an endless painful roller coaster of feeling intensely close and connected to feeling terribly unsafe and abandoned.
And it is not easy to get it right - our boundaries are transitional and our need for closeness and distance will change from person to person and from day to day. Even our hormones and every little event in our life has an influence on how close we want and need to be to others.
Having "healthy" boundaries does mean that we are confident in setting those, guided by a healthy sense of what is the best for us and others and is not driven by guilt. It also means that we are
flexible, not overly rigid, in how much distance and closeness we are able to tolerate and enjoy. And that sometimes means being emotionally close to another and showing our vulnerability, even
if there is a danger that the other will see all the parts of us we feel ashamed of and rather want to hide. It also means tolerating distance and giving others space when this is needed, even if
we feel we rather wanted our need for closeness met straight away. And lastly, it is saying no, maybe repeatedly and maybe against protest, if we know that the other person is overstepping our
boundaries and makes us feel uncomfortable or even hurts us.
It is not about getting it perfect all the time as there is no perfect and right way of setting boundaries. Most of my clients find this very difficult, that there is no exact instructions on where they need to set their boundaries and often start off with going overboard either way - letting others get too close or pushing others away rigorously. That is ok, it is all about the process of finding what feels right for you and we are allowed to get it wrong and learn from it! Boundaries are fluid and change throughout life: From being a baby and needing intense constant closeness to becoming a teenager and defining your identity, moving on into adulthood where romantic intimacy becomes the focus of life to having children and the new closeness this brings with it.
As long as we engage with ourselves and listen to our and others needs, as well as not shying away when we fear loneliness or too much closeness we are on the right path. We will then learn along the way and can find our own healthy boundaries and build healthy relationships, in which we can feel safe and nurtured.