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boundaries and mental health

Many people have a negative perception of personal boundaries. They believe that they are restrictive and should not exist. In reality, personal boundaries help us maintain healthy relationships and contribute to our well-being.


Without boundaries, it is difficult for relationships to flourish and be satisfying, so they give way to disappointment, resentment and frustration. Being able to establish different types of personal boundaries is essential to protect our personal space and build our identity, which will protect our long-term mental health.


A study conducted at the University of South Australia revealed that healthcare personnel activate emotional boundaries in their daily lives, often without being fully aware of it, to protect themselves from psychological pain.


The problem, then, is not boundaries, but inadequate boundaries. Boundaries are neither good nor bad in themselves. It all depends on how we apply them.


A person who does not set boundaries to their interpersonal relationships may seem very open and receptive, but they also expose themselves to being continually hurt or exploited by others. On the other hand, a person with extremely rigid boundaries will close themselves off to relationships and may not have a social support network to back them up during the most difficult times. The key, like everything in life, is balance.


The 3 types of personal boundaries


1. Rigid boundaries


This type of boundary is characterised by inflexible rules that the person applies strictly, without taking into account the context or the rights and needs of others. These people think that their values, ways of thinking or needs are the only ones possible and leave no room for others, closing themselves off from change.


In fact, those with rigid boundaries avoid intimacy with others and maintain emotionally distant relationships. They establish an emotional barrier that is difficult to overcome, which is why they tend to have few friends. These people are unlikely to ask for help when they have a problem because they prefer to keep it to themselves.


They are very defensive about their privacy, to the point that they can come across as cold and aloof, even with their partners. In reality, these rigid boundaries are often the result of a defensive attitude as these people prefer to keep others at a distance to avoid possible rejection. Boundaries are the emotional walls behind which they protect themselves.


2. Porous boundaries


The person with porous boundaries has practically no emotional boundaries or is extremely lax. He keeps nothing to himself, has no difficulty telling intimate problems, even to strangers, and therefore often ends up exposing himself unnecessarily.


Moreover, she tends to get too involved in other people's problems, to the point of developing a deep empathy syndrome. This near-absence of boundaries also makes her more vulnerable to emotional manipulation, which is why she is usually a person prone to abuse or disrespect. She also often feels responsible for the problems of others or guilty about the feelings of others.


In fact, he has difficulty saying 'no' to the excessive demands of others, so he ends up overloading himself with tasks and obligations that do not correspond to him. Underlying the porous boundaries is a high emotional reactivity and a deep dependence on the opinion of others. Fearing social rejection, these people prefer to submit and continually loosen their boundaries by allowing others to impose their own needs, desires or points of view.


3. Healthy boundaries


People with healthy personal boundaries tend to be balanced. They are clear about their values and know when they are not willing to compromise, but are also able to adapt to circumstances and expand their boundaries if necessary. They are aware of their needs and desires and are able to communicate them assertively. It means that they know how to say 'no' when requests are excessive, without feeling guilty. And also accept 'no' as an answer.


This type of personal limitation allows us to distinguish our emotions, thoughts and values from others and helps us to take responsibility for them, but at the same time prevents us from taking the blame for others who do not correspond to us.


People with healthy boundaries establish balanced relationships in which they share personal information appropriately. They do not give in emotionally at the first change, but neither do they build walls as the relationship progresses. Healthy boundaries stem from a strong self-esteem and a great confidence in personal abilities and values. This self-confidence is what also allows one to recognise mistakes and make boundaries more flexible or expand them when necessary.


In an ideal world, we should apply those healthy boundaries to all spheres of life. However, we find it easier to apply different types of personal boundaries. For example, we may have rigid boundaries at work, where we do not let anything pass, but we apply overly porous boundaries in the family or in our relationship with our partner to the point of falling into emotional dependency. Therefore, it is always valid to rethink our personal boundaries.


You are politely refusing his or her help while establishing a personal boundary.


If we try to set boundaries out of anger or because we have been scolded, they will not listen to us. Boundaries are not meant to punish, but to protect our well-being. Therefore, they are most effective when we show a firm but assertive and calm attitude.


The third important detail we have to keep in mind is that many times we cannot set any kind of personal boundary without defining the consequences. In other words, when setting boundaries, we have to make it clear to the other person why they are important to us and how far we are willing to go to defend them. In this way, the other person can make an informed decision.


In short, the key to establishing healthy boundaries is to understand what we want and to be clear with others, always within a framework of respect and assertiveness. Setting boundaries is not selfish. Every time you say 'no' to something that hurts you, you are saying 'yes' to yourself.


How can i establish healthy and assertive personal boundaries?


It is necessary to set boundaries for oneself or in relationships with others. A study conducted at the University of Innsbruck, for example, found that when work-related stress exceeds our psychological boundaries, our family pays the bill.


In contrast, healthy boundaries have a protective effect. They prevent us from giving unwanted advice and meddling in the lives of others, as well as preventing others from meddling too much in ours. They also help us not to blame others and become their scapegoat.


A sine qua non for establishing healthy boundaries is to be aware of our feelings, values and responsibilities towards ourselves and others. If we are not clear about who we are and what we want, we will not be able to establish healthy boundaries.


The other condition for these boundaries to be effective is to be able to communicate them. To do this, we must focus on ourselves. We must be clear that personal boundaries serve to protect ourselves, not to control others.


So instead of saying to a person: 'stop meddling in my life' you can say: 'it's a personal matter, I will decide'. With the first sentence, the person may feel attacked or even hurt if they are trying to help you in good faith. With the second sentence you are politely refusing his help while establishing a personal boundary.


If we try to set boundaries out of anger or because we have been scolded, they will not listen to us. Boundaries are not meant to punish, but to protect our well-being. Therefore, they are most effective when we show a firm but assertive and calm attitude.


The third important detail we have to bear in mind is that many times we cannot set any kind of personal boundary without defining the consequences. In other words, when setting boundaries, we have to make it clear to the other person why they are important to us and how far we are willing to go to defend them. In this way, the other person can make an informed decision.


In short, the key to setting healthy boundaries is to understand what we want and to be clear with others, always within a framework of respect and assertiveness. Setting boundaries is not selfish. Every time you say 'no' to something that hurts you, you are saying 'yes' to yourself.

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