Shutterstock / Healthy boundaries are what separates people but are necessary for healthy relationships.
The term ‘boundary’ when used in a psychological sense refers to the barrier between what people choose to let in to their lives, and what they consciously decide not to.
In a physical sense, a personal boundary is the physical amount of distance that somebody allows another to become close to them. Some people and cultures are more comfortable with people standing closer to them, while other people and societies find a greater physical distance more acceptable and more the norm.
Another factor influencing physical boundary distance is gender differences. For example, it is generally expected that unless men and women are engaged in a romantic relationship, for example, then there would be greater space between them. This would be for the purpose of not giving the other person the impression that they were interested in the person in an intimate sense, when they were not.
Shutterstock/How close a male and a female get depends on the nature of their relationship.
Yet another factor that defines the degree to which we space ourselves from others is how close we are to them. We probably would hug a close friend, for example, but not an acquaintance.
Personal factors may also play a role. Some people are more affectionate than others. I know I love giving my friends hugs, and some of my friends do too, but others show they care in less ‘touchy-feely’ ways.
Social moulding is also another factor in the physical proximity people allow others to become to them. If someone was abused, they may create very rigid boundaries around them, not only in a physical sense but also in a psychological sense.
Psychological boundaries are the distances we place between ourselves and others in an emotional sense.
Psychological boundaries are influenced by much the same factors as physical ones - personality, culture, gender, nature of relationship, and how they were brought up.
If we do not trust at all, we are likely to have very rigid psychological boundaries. We will not share much with others because in the past, we have learned that this has led to us being betrayed. For example, that information may have been used against us.
Again, we are more likely to tell more to the person depending on how close they are to us. Family we love and care about - however, especially as the children grow up and go their separate ways, the closeness of the relationship depends on many other factors.
If we are extremely trusting, we do not have firm enough boundaries if it puts us in a position we are likely to be taken advantage of. This can also occur if we are the type of people who feel they need others’ approval - people pleasers. If we can assert ourselves appropriately, we are more likely to have established healthy boundaries.
Shutterstock/ Saying 'yes' when you mean 'no' is a sign of lack of assertiveness
Probably the most healthy type of boundary to have is flexible. This kind of barrier, whether physical or psychological is within our control. It occurs when we are self-aware, and are assertive enough to say ‘no’ and ‘yes.’ We know when we are going to be taken advantage of, and putting up a boundary is self-protection. Sometimes we may loosen the boundaries somewhat: for example giving a male friend a hug on this birthday.
However, if we sense someone is advancing on us intimately and we do not want this, we may have to quickly re-establish distance.
If we never let down our boundaries, if we have been hurt, then we may never get to know if other people out there can be trusted, because we won’t give them a chance. Healing such wounds takes time and professional help.
We all need an appropriate amount of space, and we all need an appropriate amount of distance. Boundaries are the invisible walls that create these parameters to keep us feeling safe, free but yet connected.