Remember the story of Cinderella? A young girl’s kind nature is manipulated by her evil stepmother and cruel stepsisters, effectively forcing Cinderella to be a live-in servant in her own home—and that’s the kid-friendly Disney version! The story of Cinderella ultimately serves as a good allegory for establishing boundaries. Her happy ending was hard-won! With the help of her fairy godmother, Cinderella realizes she does deserve to go to the ball. Her animal friends help her break out from the attic room her stepmother locked her away in. If she had given up and allowed her stepmother to control her, Cinderella would never have tried on the glass slipper that ultimately allows her to marry her Handsome Prince and live happily ever after.
Similarly, setting boundaries in our lives for friends, romantic relationships, loved ones, and even professional relationships can help us live our own happily ever after. Mindfulness can help because mindfulness actively expands one’s awareness and allows us to assess our boundaries, to be clear on when a boundary is being crossed, how best to respond to crossed boundaries, and even how you developed the need for these boundaries.
So what are boundaries? Positive Psychology defines them as emotional and/or physical borders that “can help people define their individuality and can help people indicate what they will and will not hold themselves responsible for.” Boundaries are important to protect yourself from people who want to harm or manipulate you—like Cinderella’s stepmother—but they’re also important to help loved ones know how best to take care of your emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. As Dr. Chad A. Buck eloquently states, “[Boundaries] offers protection while still keeping you connected to others, it offers structure, it limits the energy you devote to a person or situation, and it offers you choices rather than obligations or expectations. Visualize a stone wall with a gate that can be opened or closed. You are the gatekeeper, and no one gets access unless you say so.” See why it’s important to clearly define your boundaries? If you don’t know where the gate is, and neither does anyone else, how can you communicate what is important for your overall happiness?
Boundaries for Friends
Boundaries in friendships can be complicated because friends are often focused on having fun together and boundaries can feel too serious or awkward to bring up, “but sometimes, new boundaries are required as the relationship progresses over time.” Research conducted in 2012 recognizes that “Friendships have been seen as resources for the self, sources of emotional, social and material supports, as central to elective families and affective communities and as pure relationships. Also, an egalitarian friendship ‘ethos’ has been proffered as a solution to the power imbalances associated with other relational forms such as family.” Thus, boundaries in friendships can be vital to the wellbeing of a person. Mindfulness helps establish these boundaries as it increases a person’s ability to regulate their emotions—becoming less reactive and more problem-solving. Researchers studying the effects of mindfulness discovered, “Neuroimaging studies have evidenced functional and structural changes in a myriad of brain regions mainly involved in attention systems, emotion regulation, and self-referential processing.” Meaning mindfulness creates a better awareness of self and therefore what helps and what harms us. For example, if your friend frequently criticizes your appearance and you are struggling to understand why it upsets you so much or what to do about it, mindfulness can help you process those emotions and establish better boundaries. If you need more examples of boundaries for friendships then you can read more about them here.
Boundaries for Romantic Relationships
The book Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend is believed by many to be one of the best books about boundaries for romantic relationships. Though the examples given in the book are often focused on a particular age group and a specific background, the book is still rated an impressive 4.1 out of 5 on Goodreads and 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon. It might be a good place to start if you’re wondering what boundaries are needed for romantic relationships. It is vital to establish and re-establish boundaries in a romantic relationship because of all the ways romantic partners become enmeshed—in body, in finances, potentially in marriage, etc. The University of Chicago’s Gary Gilles says, “a relationship cannot be healthy if clear boundaries are not in place and respected.” That’s how important boundaries are in romantic relationships. In fact, boundaries in romantic relationships are so important that your own personal boundaries should be established before agreeing to enter into a romantic relationship and reaffirmed often throughout the entirety of the relationship. Love Is Respect asserts, “Personal boundaries are limits you set around your body, physical places, emotions, financial information, and digital spaces. We determine what we choose to share with our partners, and our partners choose what they want to share with us. Trust and respect are significant components to maintaining boundaries in a relationship, and it’s up to you to decide what makes you feel most comfortable. Pressure from a partner to redefine your limits is not okay, and you have the choice to decide what feels right for you at any point in your relationship.” Boundaries in romantic relationships are very complex and in-depth. For further examples on what healthy relationship boundaries look like, check out this link.
Boundaries for Loved Ones and Family
Like friendships and relationships, boundaries with loved ones and family members can be especially difficult to establish. The dynamics between parents and children, brothers and sisters, extended family, and in-laws are complicated and full of social nuance. Therefore boundaries need to be established to be fair to everyone’s needs. Parents of teenagers are familiar with how frequently young adults seek to test the boundaries of a family dynamic. This is normal and part of their development, but as a parent, it is vital to their social growth to have clear and established boundaries. Teaching them to respect your boundaries and to have their boundaries respected helps them to respect boundaries in other relationships later. Boundaries between families and loved ones are sometimes difficult to maintain because of people-pleasing and/or societal expectations, however, “keep in mind that your needs are just as important as that person’s needs.” Here is a link to further examples of why familial boundaries are so important and how to establish them
Boundaries in Professional Relationships
Professional boundaries are a hot-button topic in the era of Me-Too and HR violations but don’t get swept up in the belief that this is only a modern concern. The Hippocratic Oath was written sometime in the 3rd-5th century BC and in part it reads, “Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males…” Therefore, it is important to understand your professional boundaries and what actions need to take place towards those who would cross them. Professional boundaries are foundationally defined as, “the legal, ethical and organizational frameworks that protect both clients and employees, or workers, from physical and emotional harm, and help to maintain a safe working environment.” These are incredibly delicate scenarios and need to be approached very carefully. Having firmly established boundaries can help keep the lines from getting blurred, and a professional coach can help you meditate and affirm what your boundaries are in a professional setting. Professional boundaries are just as important for the managers of a company as they are for entry-level associates. More information can be found here.
A professional coach can help in setting boundaries in all of these aspects and can start you on your mindfulness journey so that you can connect to what is most important to you in establishing boundaries. Remember that your needs are valid and should be respected. Boundaries help you to respect others and respect yourself to the best ability. Go get that glass slipper, Cinderella!