Our Boundaries Define Who We Are

— by Amy Alfred, Ph.D.

Many people come into my office feeling resentful of those around them who do not respect their boundaries.

When did you last say “yes” when what you really wished to say was “no”? And when you did that, do you remember feeling joyful and passionate about the experience, or a bit frustrated and resentful about it?

Valuing yourself and your time by saying “no” can be very difficult for many people. But saying “yes” when you really want to say “no” can lead to some negative consequences.

A boundary is anything that indicates or fixes a limit, like a personal property line, or a membrane that keeps an organism intact. The many different kinds of boundaries include physical, emotional, time, relationship, work, parent and spiritual ones. In order to feel balanced, it is important to know your own and others’ approaches to setting boundaries.

Key areas of our lives are protected when we use appropriate boundaries: time, emotions, energy, personal values or other areas of importance to you.

We teach people how to treat us: For example, some of us inadvertently send messages telling people that we are available for them, when in fact we are not.

So how can we create effective personal boundaries?

  • Be clear about the boundary both to yourself and others. Once the boundary has been crossed, remind the person of your boundary and ask for help in maintaining that boundary.
  • If the person continues to violate the boundary, ask firmly and politely for the behavior to stop. If it continues, consider what further action is needed to stop the behavior.
  • Identify ways to position yourself in a time and place that minimizes the opportunity for your boundaries to be crossed.
  • Thank those people around you who honor your boundaries.
  • Always try to understand and honor the boundaries of those around you.

Dr. Amy Alfred is a licensed psychologist and maintains a private practice in Narberth, Pennsylvania. You may contact her at [email protected], or at her office, 610-755-2929.