The environment naturally creates boundaries that clearly delineate where one ecological system begins, another ends, and where two or more systems intersect or overlap in points of convergence. A shoreline is a simple demonstration of natural boundaries that demark land from water and water from sky or air. When you begin to take note of your local natural environment, you will find several examples of boundaries that can help you to deepen your understanding of an important clinical concept referred to as a personal boundary. Where your counselling, coaching, or treatment goals include improved self-care, strategies that build your personal boundaries will become greater.
One of the most exciting aspects of a personal emotional journey is the depth of self-knowledge that you will discover anew. Partnered with a seasoned and skilled clinician, recovering from emotional injury, an episode of mental illness or addiction, or trauma is possible. People do recover emotionally, and so can you. Depression, anxiety, post-trauma stress disorder are all treatable conditions.
Although social media and digital technologies have facilitated new and exciting ways to meet people, many individuals are feeling more and more anxious and depressed about work, personal and social relationships, and a growing reliance on substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or videogaming to cope. There are no real limits to the online world. The world wide net or internet is available 24/7, easily accessible, and open to people from around the globe. The integration of digital tools and the internet or intranet into all aspects of work, school, and community has lengthened the work day offering employees to log-on and complete tasks from earlier in the day or week. It has also made it easier to bring more and more of your work into your home, and perhaps, your social recreational time.
As you learn to navigate a virtual world without limits, the need to create personal boundaries has grown exponentially. You may experience a loss of self-confidence that results from poor limit setting on your time, or personal information shared online, or dating apps. Often denoted as “real” relationships, friends are individuals with whom you have spent some time getting to know on a face-to-face, or heart-to-heart basis. Relationships, like people are fickle things. Sadly, more and more people are experiencing changes in “real” friendships based on comments, or posts made online. There is a growing number of young people who have suffered emotionally due to the social exclusion created by the phenomena of cancel culture and ghosting. The depth of emotional injury caused by extreme forms of ostracization is evident in many young people seeking counselling support and treatment. These are particularly damaging social behaviours that signal a young person’s need for support and guidance around moving forward without “old friends”.
The pandemic has expedited the world’s adoption of virtual platforms and technologies in all areas of life including professional, academic, medical, and community-based services. The promise of technology continues to offer the work world increased flexibility and efficiencies. It also increased your risk to work longer hours and to over-disclose personal information. These techno-risks do become negative habits that may spill-over into your social media use and in-person social skills as well.
Cultivating a clear personal boundary evolves over the course of your life. It requires a sound understanding of what you need, want, and deserve in life. Drawing a line with people in your life who regularly correct, challenge, or criticize you is a good thing. Where people sharing your life journey lead you down an all too familiar road that results in self-doubt, an erosion of self-esteem, or diminished self-worth, then it is likely time for change. A dead end friendship, like a dead end street cuts you off from the joys of everyday living, your inner gifts, and from exploring and growing in new and enriching ways.
You will know when it is time to strengthen your personal boundaries by the ways you feel. Trusting that lingering self-doubt after a gathering of friends is a simple indicator that one or many of your friends or co-workers may have gone too far in their treatment of you. It is worth taking the time to create some distance from people who regularly wound your core values, belittle projects or events that you hold in high regard, take your support and care for granted, or nurture your needs and wants far less than you deserve. Putting a pause on relationships that you feel are too demanding, overwhelming, taxing, or needy will allow you the space and time to gain clarity on what might be going on.
You may discover that you have engaged in co-dependent dynamics with many of your close friends over a number of years, habitually putting your friends’ needs before your own. During this period of pause, you might engage in books written on co-dependence, emotional abuse, early emotional trauma and attachment disruption, such as Jackson MacKenzie’s Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse. In this book, the author re-introduces an ancient idea that by discovering your own inner light and peace, you no longer require other people to enjoy your life fully and to feel good.
By healing your inner emotional injuries, your personal boundaries will fortify thereby reducing or preventing further injury by people who regularly transgressed them in the past. By accepting and trusting your feelings fully, you will grow to identify roads that lead to health, wellness, happiness, generosity of spirit, and good will.
Do. Think. Feel Well.
Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW