Personal boundaries centre around self-awareness and clear communication. However, for many of us, learning to communicate what does and doesn’t work for us can be a struggle. Our capacity to set boundaries can depend on our culture, upbringing and personality.
Building strong self-esteem to stand firm when communicating your needs and what you won’t accept is essential. Learning to set better boundaries can be incredibly helpful in personal and professional contexts and, thankfully, is more accessible with the right tools.
In this post, we’ll discuss boundaries, why they are important and share some tips on communicating your needs constructively
What are personal boundaries?
Personal boundaries make up the lines we draw around ourselves, which we don’t want others to cross. These boundaries can be flexible, changeable, and different depending on how intimate the relationship is.
On a societal and cultural level, certain boundaries are assumed as part of the social contract. For example, physical, verbal and emotional abuse is an implicit boundary violation. However, in certain instances, abuse can be insidious and difficult to detect, especially regarding narcissistic abuse.
The topic of abuse is complex, and a detailed examination is out of the scope of this article. However, to illustrate the definition of personal boundaries, abuse can be seen as the extreme end of the spectrum as to what you won’t accept. When interacting with others, your personal preferences could fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Why are boundaries important?
Boundaries are important because they define our interactions with others and our relationship with ourselves. If we have firm personal boundaries, we can communicate clearly with others and avoid unnecessary conflict and express our needs constructively.
Poor boundaries can result in destructive relationships. In the worst-case scenario, this can result in relationships where we cannot communicate our needs and are taken advantage of.
Why do we struggle to set boundaries?
Our education, government structure, and how much we were encouraged to speak up for our needs in our family of origin can influence our ability to speak up. For example, speaking out in specific contexts can be taboo and might lead to punishment or ostracisation. Once again, this is an extreme case, but it shows how much our cultural upbringing can influence our behaviour.
We can also struggle to set boundaries because we aren’t necessarily taught how to do so. In established relationships, it can be challenging to change power dynamics. However, understanding the importance of boundaries can enable you to express your needs early on and avoid unnecessary conflict in the future. It can also avoid resentment, which the other party is unaware of due to your uncommunicated needs.
Despite your cultural background and what you have experienced, learning to express yourself better is a lifelong process for everyone. Thankfully, there are specific tips you can apply when having difficult conversations or when building relationships with others.
Tips on how to set better personal boundaries
As we’ve mentioned, setting boundaries is an ongoing process. We all have good and bad days, and what might feel okay one day can shift to the next. Anger is often a sign that a boundary has been crossed. Sometimes, we only realise we needed to put a boundary in place after it has been crossed. Keeping in mind what is not okay (and seeking support when you need it), here are some general tips for setting better boundaries:
Build a strong sense of self-worth
Self-worth and self-esteem are essential to communicating your needs, even when difficult. Some people are more sensitive than others, so you also need to honour your personality, needs and capacity when it comes to what is acceptable to you.
Depending on your background and life experiences, you might have experienced more difficulty setting boundaries than others, so this is something to remember when building relationships. It’s also crucial to seek professional help to process trauma if necessary.
To give a general example, in a professional setting, you might prefer to have more personal space in the workplace and not be interrupted. While informal conversations are essential to building workplace relationships, you can voice your need to focus and set aside time to interact with colleagues during your lunch break or outside of work instead.
Improve your communication skills
Being a skilled communicator might come naturally for some. However, learning to express yourself effectively is a lifelong learning opportunity for most of us. From this perspective, it’s essential to hone your communication skills so that you are equipped to set and maintain boundaries while being respectful of others and speaking up where appropriate.
Build self-esteem and communication skills with SACAP Global
SACAP Global offers a proactive approach to building self-esteem and communication skills through a variety of short online courses, including the following:
- Building a Positive Self-esteem
- How to Have Critical Conversations
- Effective Interpersonal Communication
- Advanced Interpersonal Communication
By completing any or all of the above courses, you’ll be well on your way to building the necessary sense of self-worth and capacity to communicate your thoughts and needs appropriately.