Your level of self-esteem and the boundaries you set for yourself are very closely related. Generally, the higher your self-esteem, the more well-defined your boundaries. Before we go on to discuss exactly why this is so, let’s first define what boundaries actually are.
Establishing personal boundaries reflects the way you take responsibility for your life. You define how you are going to be treated and how you are going to react. Of course, we can’t control every situation in our lives, but in many personal interactions, we have the ability to state, by word or deed, that certain behaviors by others will or will not be tolerated.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to some, good boundaries are not limiting. They don’t restrict your ability to fully interact with others in ways that fully respect you as a wholly-developed person. They create a permeable barrier, if you will, behind which you can enjoy the freedom of action to explore and become the real you. Well-defined boundaries allow you to show up more assertively, authentically and act with courage and honesty. You are taking ownership of your own actions, emotions or feelings without taking ownership of the actions, emotions or feelings of others.
As most of us know, self-esteem is important because it heavily influences our choices, decisions and well-being in general. A high level of self-esteem with secure boundaries makes it more likely that you will meet your needs and have the independence and resourcefulness to explore your full potential and quality of relationships with others.
Unfortunately, setting boundaries is a skill that many of us don’t learn, according to psychologist Dana Gionta, Ph.D. We might pick up pointers here and there from experience or through watching others, but for many of us, boundary-building is a relatively new concept and a challenging one. Having reasonable boundaries means “knowing and understanding what your limits are,” Dr. Gionta said.
Many sincere, well-meaning individuals sometimes struggle with knowing when it is appropriate to set firm limits. This is because they believe that those who make no bones about announcing and standing by their boundaries might appear self-centered. However, that’s not true. I believe firm boundaries are altruistic, not selfish. They are an act of charity toward all concerned because they allow everyone to know exactly where they stand. And so long as they are consistently applied, most people can take a great deal of comfort knowing where the other person’s boundaries lie.
There are three basic types of boundaries:
• Mental (your thoughts, opinions, needs, wants, beliefs and values): Knowing what your mental boundaries are, as well as the power of your own self-talk about them, is essential to smooth, comfortable interactions with others. Being able to have productive interpersonal relationships has the added benefit of increasing your self-esteem. You become a leader, not a follower.
• Physical (your personal space): Being aware of and communicating your personal space is also a self-esteem builder. For example, when someone stands uncomfortably close to you or rudely sits on your desk and you politely ask them to desist, that person knows that you are not to be imposed upon, in this sphere or others.
• Emotional (your feelings, choices and decisions): Setting boundaries for the sort of emotions you display or allow others to display in your presence is a good way to show your respect for the other person and your expectation that they respect you. Unless you are actually with your therapist or perhaps your mother, be circumspect in tolerating emotional displays. Rarely will emotions get you the win-win outcome youre seeking.
Of course, your boundaries have to be reasonable. Unreasonable or artificially rigid boundaries do not serve you or others well. The way you develop reasonable boundaries is by knowing yourself and identifying your personal beliefs, values, wants and needs. Then you can think about which of your boundaries violate your core values and which can be enforced with greater flexibility.
Often, you can identify how strongly you should enforce your boundaries by the strength of your emotional discomfort when you believe one of them is about to be violated. Unreasonable boundaries can also encompass a disregard of your own or others’ beliefs, values, wants, needs and limits — for example, disrespecting the beliefs, values and opinions of others when you do not agree with them or not accepting it when others say “no.”
Clear, well-established boundaries are absolutely essential in our relationships with others, whether those relationships are at home with our family or in the workplace with fellow workers. Those boundaries tell others that you respect yourself and that they must do so too. Without such respect, there is little likelihood that you will be treated with the appropriate amount of respect in order to be the successful leader you aspire to be.
Truth be told, setting boundaries can be a painful process. Not only will you occasionally step on some toes, but you also run the risk of clashing with others seeking to assert their own perhaps conflicting boundaries. Nevertheless, look beyond any temporary discomfort and carefully choose and assert your boundaries.
The more you practice establishing well-defined boundaries, the more people will treat you as a worthy, self-respecting individual, and the stronger your self-esteem will become, all to the long-term benefit of yourself and others. The stronger the self-esteem, the stronger the boundaries you can implement.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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