Applied Psychology

How to Recognise Personal Boundaries

Sep 23, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
How to Recognise Personal Boundaries

There are two parts to recognising personal boundaries. One is noticing other people’s and respecting them. The other is recognising them within your own life and enforcing them. Respecting and enforcing can be challenging at times. Consequently, forming good habits around personal boundaries makes it a lot easier to do and practising helps get it right.

The first step to recognising personal boundaries is to understand and maintain them in your own life. Once you start to do this, it becomes easier to recognise other’s boundaries as well as to respect them.

What are Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the limits of what someone is willing to accept from those around them. They are applicable within personal and professional relationships. And also apply when meeting new people. Common ones are, for example: Do not go through my cupboards without asking. Do not tell racist or sexist jokes in my company. And do not make fun of, degrade or humiliate me.

They are important because they are essentially an outward expression of your core beliefs and values. Additionally, they are an indication of what you need to feel respected, loved and secure.

“Personal boundaries are where you end and I start.”

A lack of personal boundaries, or when they overstepped, can leave you feeling disrespected and knock your self-esteem. Not having good personal boundaries can result in you constantly trying to please everyone and do what they ask. This ends up in you being exhausted, anxious and often annoyed. As well as feeling powerless and at the mercy of everyone around you.

Are there Different Types of Personal Boundaries?

There are three types of boundaries. Which ones we use and when is largely dependent on the context we find ourselves in. Often, it’s a balancing act between what we see as appropriate in a setting and maintaining our beliefs and core values.

When You have:

1. Rigid Boundaries, You tend to:

  • Keep others at a distance.
  • Be overly protective over basic personal information.
  • Seem detached to those few you have closer relationships with.
  • Avoid intimate relationships.

2. Porous Boundaries, You might:

  • Be a people pleaser, often at an expense to your own wellbeing.
  • Over share personal information.
  • Get overly involved in other people’s challenges and problems.
  • Often accept disrespect and abuse from others.

3. Healthy Boundaries You are able to:

  • Say no and accept it when others say no.
  • Share personal information appropriately.
  • Value your own opinion.
  • Understand your own needs and wants as well as how to communicate them without compromising.

How strictly we enforce and continue to reinforce our boundaries can also depend on time, trust and familiarity. Most people have a mix of boundaries that vary across their lives. For example: At work we may have rigid ones and with friends looser. However, whatever we decide, keeping them in line with our own core beliefs and values is always very important. It is also important to note that appropriate personal boundaries, such as public displays of affection, can differ within cultural contexts.

“We need to use a mixture of the three types of boundaries because we live contextually varied lives.”

Is there a Difference between Personal Boundaries and Professional Boundaries?

There is a difference between appropriate boundaries in personal and professional relationships. Mostly it comes down to the detail of personal information we share. Within professional relationships personal information tends towards being descriptive and not intimate. For example: We had a lovely weekend away with friends in Hermanus. Whereas in personal relationships, more detail is shared. Such as: Our friends treated us to a great time away at their holiday home in Hermanus. Additionally, within a personal context feelings and opinions are usually shared.

Why do we Have Professional Boundaries?

Professional boundaries are limits to relationships between a client and a staff member or two co-workers. They allow for connections with others while keeping things professional. Generally, it’s best to separate friends from co-workers. Overall, this better enables us to take objective stances on matters involving colleagues and make less subjective decisions. Additionally, professional boundaries create the parameters for us to say no, delegate work when it’s appropriate and ringfence our personal space from being infringed upon by work.

Reality is that when you work side-by-side, professional boundaries often become more porous and we slowly let our guard down. As a result, we share more intimate details about our lives and colleagues can become great friends. This means that while we adjust the type of personal boundaries we use at work, we need to be mindful of the possible need to separate work and social. This is to better ensure that we are able to keep making effective decisions and perform as required at work.

How to Create and Maintain Personal Boundaries

Setting personal boundaries may make you feel like you are “marking” your territory. This isn’t true. Boundaries are important indicators that protect your own wants and needs. They also assist to decrease stress and anxiety in our lives, by enabling us to say a guilt-free-no to others. Furthermore, without them, maintaining a sense of self, as well as gaining the respect of others, will prove difficult if not impossible. Ironically, having personal boundaries also helps us to be a better friend!

5 Steps to Setting Personal Boundaries

  1. Give Yourself Permission: Think through why they are important and how they can help you in various areas of your life.
  2. Assess Your Personal Boundaries: Know your limits, pay attention to your feelings, consider different contexts (relationships, family, friends, work, strangers). Then decide what kind of boundaries within each setting correlates with your core beliefs and principles.
  3. Communicate these Boundaries: They are no good to you if you don’t let others know what they are. If the way things have been happening needs to change, then you may need to have an upfront conversation. Otherwise, as things come up, and where need be, you can relay them.
  4. Evaluate and Adjust: It’s good to take stock at the end of the day and assess how well your boundaries held. Look at what worked and where it was a battle. Dig into why this happened and how next time you could change the dynamics.
  5. Take a Deep Breath: Creating a better self-awareness, undoing old bad habits and fostering new good habits, takes time. So don’t expect it to be easy to set, maintain and enforce good personal boundaries. So be gentle on yourself, it’s going to take practice and perseverance.

Where to Get Help to set Boundaries

Sometimes getting professional guidance is an ideal way to understand a situation and set better boundaries. Often it’s quicker to get an expert to help you than muddle along yourself. Psychologists are able to help individuals, couples as well as families establish good personal boundaries. Thereby better enabling them to enjoy and appreciate each other’s company.

Are you interested in assisting others to establish personal boundaries? If you are then consider enrolling in one of SACAP’s (The South African College of Applied Psychology) Applied Psychology Degrees. There are a range of options to choose from, available across a number of country-wide campuses as well as online. Contact an advisor to chat further about what courses are best suited to your interests. Click here to enrol.

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