The importance of proper boundaries

The importance of proper boundaries

by Ashley Tan 16 Feb 2020

Boundaries are important, and it goes beyond the concept of just “personal space”. By forming our own boundaries and requesting for others to respect them, we’re able to protect ourselves from unwanted scrutiny. A coalescence of vulnerability, containment and protection forms what would be called “healthy boundaries”, which constitute physical, emotional and mental boundaries. However, not all boundaries are necessarily desirable – there also exist certain dysfunctional boundaries that we should try to avoid delineating for ourselves. 


There are two main ways in which dysfunctional boundaries are exhibited: we become either too vulnerable, or too impenetrable.


When we are too vulnerable, we tend to allow others’ actions or judgements affect us emotionally or physically, or both on a disturbing level. More often than not, there are several underlying insecurities, as we feel that there is a need to depend on others for support and protection. Yet, we are never able to find that someone whom we feel we can rely on completely, which portends never really feeling safe or protected.


Conversely, when we are too impenetrable, we close ourselves off from the rest of the world. There’s a metaphorical wall that those around us fail to break through, which means that we find difficulty in connecting with others and understanding their thoughts and emotions. There is also a fear that opening up will do nothing but provide the opportunity for others to get close enough to hurt us.


Many of us also face challenges with containment, where we’re either too restrained or completely uninhibited. Some defining characteristics of individuals who are overly contained include steering clear of physical contact with others and being unable to verbalise their emotions. On the other hand, individuals who exist on the other end of the spectrum exhibit symptoms that include touching others or their belongings without permission, being unable to filter what they say, and standing next to others at a distance that is too close for comfort.


However, it’s also vital to note that there is a difference between boundaries and containment. An individual who struggles with having a lack of boundaries can still be considered “contained” – he/she may allow others’ thoughts and actions to influence his/her own, but may not be comfortable with expressing his/her feelings or needs in an open manner. The opposite is also true. In this sense, seemingly antithetical categories under boundaries and containment can co-exist and intertwine.


So, what are some steps you can take to heal a dysfunctional boundary system? A good first step would be to identify the type of boundaries that we hold by taking a step back and evaluating your own personality. Are you an introvert, extrovert or a mix between the two? Where do you sit on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? Profiling your mental portrait allows you to understand your habits and tendencies better, and assist you in effecting long-lasting change.


Once you’ve pinpointed this, you can decide on the course of intervention that you are personally comfortable with. For instance, if you’re someone who is usually uncontained and are looking to improve on this, then honing in on a therapeutic approach predicated on regulating your emotions would be most useful. This will remind you to be more mindful, and depend on yourself to calm your emotions, instead of looking to others for assistance. 


Striking the right balance to set proper boundaries can be quite challenging, but finding this equilibrium will enable us to create a more genuine connection with both ourselves and those around us. Being vulnerable without any defences is an open invitation for trouble, but walling yourself up completely is simply imprudent. Find the right balance between the two and you’ll be able to decide for yourself where the buck stops.