Do you have limits and rules that you set for yourselves within relationships at work, at home, and with your friends? These limits and rules are your boundaries. For instance, you may have a rule that if you have no choice but to do some work on Sundays you will keep it to a maximum of 3 hours, or you may decide that there are things you do not want to tolerate in your relationships with other human beings (such as meanness, critical attitudes, or withdrawing behaviors). But how do you decide on what your boundaries, aka your limits and rules— are? Your boundaries are based on what matters to you such as your values and needs, but should ideally be balanced with what is acceptable and appropriate according to your environment and culture too.
What’s the importance of setting boundaries? People set boundaries to protect and care for their psychological well-being in the long-term so that they can live well and do what they want to do in their life. That’s because the cost of not maintaining boundaries is huge: When you’re not honest with yourself about what you can and cannot take 1, burnout might happen at work if no time boundaries are maintained (you work more than you want to and are supposed to) and depression might set in if you receive continuous criticism for having feelings or feeling the way you do (emotional boundaries)— and sometimes, we are the ones judging ourselves for feeling the way we do. In the end, when physical, emotional, intellectual, and sexual boundaries are violated at work or home, you might end up feeling overwhelmed and too disturbed to go about your daily life feeling okay.
But thank heavens for boundaries! When you enforce boundaries, you’ll be more likely to feel emotionally healthy, less anxious, and more confident about your capabilities 2. With boundaries, you’re less likely to feel annoyed, frustrated, angry, and unsatisfied in the face of everyday stressors and have more energy to focus on dealing with non-toxic stress: the stress that comes from working towards your career and relationship goals. That’s because boundaries take care of your needs and protect you from unnecessary, toxic stress. When your needs are met, you’re more likely to feel in control of your life. In addition, boundaries give us the capacity to regulate our own stressful emotions and therefore prevent reactive (versus mindfully responsive) behaviors such as gossip, talking down, ostracism, critical attitudes, backbiting and blaming, which are some subconscious ways in which we may regulate stress.
So what do healthy boundaries look like?
Healthy boundaries involve you firstly acting on behalf of your own emotions and mental health needs 3, such as by checking in with your emotional response towards a recent stressful event and responding accordingly. In the realm of work or study, this may mean scheduling a break in between your many meetings, making sure that you get credit for the work you put in, not solving your colleagues’ issues for them, or asking for more help when you’re struggling with a task or project.
At home, this may mean having a time scheduled for just you, undisturbed by the demands of others, or creating house rules on what’s allowed and not allowed to happen in interpersonal communication between family members (for instance, no name-calling, no resolving conflicts using blame, and so on). Besides that, when drawing up boundaries, be sure to communicate your boundaries assertively— not passively, aggressively, nor passive-aggressively. In addition, have patience if those around you do not communicate their own boundaries and explain to them that unfortunately, you cannot read their minds.
At the end of the day, when it comes to boundaries, just remember that you must have a rough idea of what stresses you up, how you tend to respond to those stressors, and what you need to have or do in order to deal with that stress. Only then would you be able to know what your boundaries are and to then communicate or implement them when it’s time! Lastly, throughout the entire process of getting to know yourself, identifying what works for you, and communicating what doesn’t— try to hold on to values such as honesty, vulnerability, and courage.
P.S. And when someone is upholding their boundaries, be sure to respond with openness, kindness, and respect.
 Henkel, J. K. (n.d.). How to set and maintain healthy boundaries as a leader. Bizcommunity.com – Daily Human Resources & Management news. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/610/208456.html.
 Snow, S. (2020, April 13). How to set boundaries at work when it’s hard (especially when remote). Forbes. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/shanesnow/2020/04/13/how-to-set-boundaries-at-work-when-its-hard-especially-when-remote/.
 Mind Tools Content Team. (n.d.). Managing your boundaries: Ensuring that others respect your needs. From MindTools.com. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_87.htm.
Written by Iffah Suraya Jasni, a provisional counsellor from the Master’s in Professional Counselling at the University of Malaya. Currently a Crisis Team Member with MIASA and has working experience as a content writer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Boston University and is interested in trauma, mindfulness, spirituality, body image, and helping humans cope with adversities.