Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Personal and professional boundaries are essential for psychological safety, wellbeing, connection and sustained high performance and leadership. Boundaries can clue us onto behaviours that might be harmful or helpful and when our boundaries are crossed in relationships we quickly discover that maintaining such relationships can become toxic.
In Coaching and Counselling interpersonal and self-awareness skills help clients identify and set up healthier boundaries. But in leadership and high performance, or other areas of life like studies or any kind of learning and development project, boundaries can help prevent burning out, sustaining better work life balance, managing your time and rest and also in the creation of business, organisation or high performing teams.
What are the kind of boundaries are there?
Emotional boundaries related to our energy, values and wellbeing
Physical boundaries related to our physical office, home and public space
Sexual boundaries that protect our needs, desires and safety
Workplace boundaries that protects your ability to do the work effectively
Material boundaries related to your possessions
Time boundaries that protect the use of your time
Often when talking about boundaries with clients I like to remind them that boundaries are constructs that can be built and changed over time. They are not something that should be fixed and inflexible and as we change and grow our boundaries should reflect that. Boundaries give one a sense of agency over their feelings, thoughts, actions and physical space and time and help protect your self-esteem, your emotional energy, wellbeing and empowerment.
In relationship they seperate your stuff from the other person's and helps you create a healthier place to lead others from. Often I find when clients are reactive to others it's because they don't have strong boundaries themselves. But creating boundaries is sometimes about trial and error and can be a daily practice you get better at when it becomes habitual.
Learning to protect your boundaries takes practice and I have found that noticing when your boundaries are challenged is a good place to start. How can we know our edges unless we find ourselves on the other side of them? I don't recommend this at all, but being on the outside of your comfort zone is an indicator you might be getting closer to a boundary. If you end up in a panic it could be that you have crossed a personal boundary but it could also be a trigger from the past so you will need to be discerning about what is triggering and what is a conscious personal boundary and try to determine what you need in that particular dynamic to feel present, safe and regulated.
Your intuition will usually tell you when your personal boundary has been breached but we're not always good at acting on this information or communicating it to others in a way that asserts our boundaries. Take your time with this and when you can get the space to help you understand what you're needing. Chances are sometimes the other person is not aware they have crossed a boundary and if you don't communicate they are literally in the dark as to why you have reacted that way. The thing is everyones boundaries are different and not everyone is good at realising their own boundaries or others boundaries. Boundaries and emotional intelligence often go hand in hand and those with a lower EQ might need to really work on boundaries and having others explain their boundaries.
Here's some pointers to remember when working with Personal Boundaries:
Understand your right to have boundaries
Stop catering to others demands on your time and energy
Take time out or step away from a situation if you don't feel safe
Know your wants, needs and limits and try to assert them
Communicate your boundaries to those you spend time a lot of time with
Learn to say no when you want to
Identify when people cross the lines you have communicated
Have a go to response to say when boundaries are crossed
Listen to your bodily instincts and reactions to learn more about your values
Don't compromise on your values and let them be your guide
Set limits on notifications and messaging online
Seek out your own voice, thoughts, feelings and physical space
When you're spending a lot of time in groups, take the time to have space alone
If needed create a safety plan and remove yourself when your boundaries are constantly disrespected
Personal boundary counselling work is effective for helping clients navigate conflict and other relationship issues in a way that identify what is your stuff to work on and how to protect yourself from toxic relationships in the future. In cases of abusive relationships and domestic violence you may need help setting healthy boundaries and I encourage you to reach out for support.
You might also apply boundary setting with work/life balance if you're a professional that struggles to switch off or study/life balance if you're a student. Often perfectionist types have a real struggle setting healthy boundaries for themselves when it comes to work and home life or the desire to do their best overrides their own wellbeing and self care. This is a common theme that comes up in leadership coaching when working with high potential, driven type A personalities.
Self-awareness, social awareness and social responsibility can only arise with carefully identifying and attending to your personal boundaries and understanding and respecting others boundaries too. If someone is continuously disrespecting your personal boundaries please protect yourself and remove yourself from proximity with the understanding this is a red flag for abuse and harmful behaviour.
In counselling we can develop a safety plan if you recognise you may be at risk of your boundaries being repeatedly crossed. If you need support and help with setting boundaries you may wish to look at doing some one on one coaching and counselling sessions to learn the skills for creating healthy personal boundaries.
Personal boundary setting does not need to be like the Berlin wall to keep others from connecting genuinely with you all the time but rather it can help make the connections you do make, more authentic, nurturing and sustainable. Don't worry if you get it wrong or stumble; muddling your way through and being vulnerable enough to make mistakes while remaining connected means you're on the developmental and growth pathway.
Here's some more great resources I have discovered recently on boundaries!
The Gottman Institute Article: The truth about boundaries
Goop Podcast: How to set boundaries
PsychCentral: 10 ways to build better boundaries