Healthy Boundaries in Relationships: A Guide for Building and Keeping Them – Part One

Being a teenager is difficult.

Raising teenagers is difficult.

Heck – being an adult who hasn’t yet dealt with some of the traumas of teenagerhood is… you guessed it: difficult.

I follow a fantastic psychologist on Twitter: Dr Nicole LaPera, who talks a lot about the aftermath of unresolved or unhealed childhood trauma, and its impacts on adulthood, and I recently replied to one of her tweets about the Gilmore Girls.

This is what she wrote:

Lorelai and Rory are the classic codependent mother and daughter. Rory is parentified by her emotionally immature parent. Lorelai uses her as her sole confidant (BFF), and there are no boundaries— Lorelai is over-involved in every aspect of her life. This shows up as: control, manipulation, and withholding. Lorelai projects her own dream of going to Harvard into Rory since childhood. When Rory applies to Yale, she sulks and leaves a dinner. Rory hides things from her for fear of how she’ll react. They never openly communicate and often give each other the silent treatment during conflict. Their dramatic relationship makes for an addictive show and leaves out the true pain, dysfunction, and shame that comes from codependent relationships.

and this was my reply:

Also: important to note that Gilmore Girls glorifies parent-child codependency as a good thing. I used to watch this show and marvel at how closely it simulated my life. Now: in my 30s, I've done a LOT of work to establish clear boundaries. I love my mum. But I love me too.

.... I was NOT expecting the response I received. Almost 390K people saw it, over 9.4K people liked it, and over 250 people either retweeted or replied.

I'm still relatively new to experimenting with Twitter, so this was a huge WTH for me... but it also made me take pause for a minute. So many of us struggle when it comes to setting boundaries, enforcing our boundaries, or encouraging our children to set boundaries without feeling offended when they try to implement them with us. I've been blessed enough, however, to have learned some really quite fun and creative ways to help us develop boundaries, and ensure that they're lovingly enforced.

Of course - for me: it all comes back to music. But I'll get to that shortly. First, let's break down a few questions:

What are healthy boundaries?

Healthy boundaries are essential for maintaining healthy relationships and promoting positive mental health. They refer to the limits we set for ourselves and others, based on our values, beliefs, and personal needs. Setting healthy boundaries involves understanding our own boundaries, communicating them clearly to others, and respecting other people's boundaries. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, or psychological, and they help us to establish a sense of safety, security, and self-respect for both ourselves, and our relationships.

Boundary setting is an ongoing process, and it requires constant communication and reflection. It involves recognizing when our boundaries have been crossed, identifying the cause, and taking action to protect ourselves. Setting healthy boundaries can help us to avoid burnout, prevent resentment, and promote positive mental health. It can also help us to cultivate healthier relationships, as we learn to communicate our needs effectively and respect the needs of others. Overall, healthy boundaries are an important aspect of maintaining a balanced and fulfilling life, both in our personal and professional relationships.

Why are relationship boundaries important?

Relationship boundaries are essential for creating both healthy and fulfilling friendships, as well as romantic relationships. Proper boundaries help individuals to maintain their physical and emotional well-being, as well as their self-esteem. In romantic relationships, it is common for partners to share aspects of their lives with each other, but it is also important to maintain a sense of personal identity and independence. Healthy boundaries enable individuals to set limits on what they are willing to share with their partner, and to communicate their needs and expectations clearly. All of this is to ensure the mental health of all parties involved, but can also lead to increased closeness, trust, and respect.

Setting and respecting boundaries in relationships [whether that's platonic-, parent-child-, romantic relationships - or even family relationships - can also help to prevent issues such as emotional abuse, neglect, and manipulation. Without proper boundaries, individuals may feel pressured to compromise their values or prioritize their partner's needs over their own. This can lead to feelings of resentment, low self-esteem, defensiveness, and other negative emotional consequences. On the other hand, healthy relationship boundaries can lead to increased trust, respect, and mutual understanding between partners. By establishing clear boundaries and respecting each other's needs and limits, individuals can create a more balanced and fulfilling relationship.

Different Types of Boundaries: There's Not Just One!

There are six main types of boundaries that individuals can set in order to promote healthy relationships and protect their well-being. These include

  • Time boundaries: which involve setting limits on the amount of time spent on certain activities or with certain people.

  • Physical boundaries involve respecting personal space and setting limits on physical touch.

  • Conversational boundaries involve being mindful of the types of topics discussed with different people.

  • Relationship boundaries involve setting expectations for the nature and extent of relationships with others.

  • Personal boundaries involve recognizing and respecting one's own needs and values.

  • Content boundaries involve setting limits on the types of information shared with others.

  • Intellectual boundaries encompass the realm of thoughts and ideas. Establishing healthy intellectual boundaries involves showing respect for others' ideas and being mindful of appropriate discourse (e.g., deciding whether to engage in discussions about the weather or politics).

  • Financial boundaries enable you to establish clear expectations regarding your relationship with money and how it impacts your interactions with others. Examples of financial boundaries could include creating and sticking to a budget, as well as setting limits on discretionary spending in relation to essential expenses.

  • Sexual boundaries delineate the extent to which we are comfortable engaging in sexual or physical activities. For instance, some individuals may enjoy oral sex, while others may not. At times, our sexual boundaries may be challenged or tested by a partner who requests or pressures us to engage in sexual acts that make us uncomfortable.

  • Workplace boundaries consist of the self-imposed rules and guidelines that employees establish for themselves, as well as the policies and protocols that human resources departments implement within a company. These boundaries help to establish clear distinctions between one's professional and personal life. Human resources departments often develop protocols to safeguard employees against workplace harassment

  • A material boundary pertains to money and possessions. Establishing healthy financial boundaries entails defining limits on what you are willing to share and with whom. For instance, lending a car to a family member may be acceptable, but lending it to someone you just met that morning might not be appropriate.

By understanding and setting these different types of boundaries, individuals can create a greater sense of control, safety, and fulfillment in their relationships and daily lives.

In today's blog, let's explore three of these eleven boundaries: our time, physical well being, and our emotional boundaries. [We'll cover the others in subsequent blogs].

Time Boundaries

Time boundaries are an important aspect of setting healthy boundaries in daily life. They involve setting limits on the amount of time spent on different activities or with different people, and prioritizing one's own needs and responsibilities. Time boundaries in an interpersonal setting can also extend to issues of tardiness.

Examples of time boundaries include limiting the amount of time spent on social media, scheduling time for self-care activities, and setting aside time for work and other obligations.

By setting and respecting time boundaries, individuals can reduce stress and improve their overall productivity and well-being. Additionally, setting time boundaries can help individuals to communicate their needs and expectations more effectively with others, and create a greater sense of balance and control in their daily lives.

Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries refer to the limits that individuals set on their personal space, touch, and other physical interactions. They can involve respecting personal space, avoiding unwanted physical touch, and setting limits on the types of physical interactions that one is comfortable with.

Physical boundaries can vary depending on cultural norms, personal preferences, and the nature of the relationship between individuals. For example, individuals may set different physical boundaries with friends than with romantic partners or family members. Another example would be in Maori [and many other Pasifika] cultures: to touch another person's head is considered taboo, and would be a severe breach of a physical boundary.

By setting and respecting physical boundaries, individuals can protect their physical well-being, which leads to an increased sense of safety and respect in their relationships: promoting greater personal autonomy and agency.

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries are imperative to setting healthy boundaries in relationships.

They involve recognizing and respecting one's own emotional needs and limits, while also respecting the emotional needs and limits of others.

Emotional boundaries can involve setting limits on the types of emotional interactions that one is comfortable with, such as avoiding excessive emotional dependence or manipulation. They can also involve setting boundaries around personal values, beliefs, and priorities.

By setting and respecting emotional boundaries, individuals can cultivate healthier relationships, reduce stress and emotional turmoil, and promote greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Emotional boundaries can help individuals to communicate their needs and expectations more effectively, and establish greater trust and respect in their relationships.

Using Music to Set and Maintain Boundaries

When we think about the art and power of music, what often comes to mind is the concept of music breaking boundaries. Whether that means to imply that music brings us together, or that musical boundaries are defined by likes, dislikes, and mixed feelings in response to different genres, bands, or songs.

However: what I have found in my 25years of writing, recording and releasing music is that the power of music can be so much more impactful - if we know how to use it appropriately.

I talked about this a little bit in my TEDx Talk last year on how music and songwriting saved my life after having had ten brain surgeries, but quite simply: music stimulates so many parts of our brain that, when mentored or taught properly, can allow us the ability to [among other benefits]:

  • regain control of our behavior, expression, and decision making abilities

  • control our emotional reactions to events and situations

  • cognitively reframe our memories, or responses to those memories, experiences or contexts

This can be hugely beneficial for our mental and emotional health - especially when it comes to how we set healthy boundaries in relationships.

Let me show you some examples of how I've been able to implement the practice of writing music into how I've been able to set healthy boundaries in my life.

Setting Time Boundaries with Music

Time's Up

To reiterate: time boundaries involve setting limits on the amount of time spent on certain activities or with certain people.

Back in 2019: I found myself drowning emotionally in overwhelm, stress, and anxiety [sound familiar?] due to everything I was consuming in the news, conversations I was having with people, and the ever-prevalent fear mongering on social media.

Then 2020 happened: and I realized the only person, realistically, that had any control over what it was I was consuming was: me.

So, inspired by a 9year old, and cheered on by my inner-child: I decided to turn my need to implement time boundaries in my life into a song that would actually remind me of the importance of setting boundaries when it comes to how I spend my time.

And just like that: Time's Up was written.

Setting Physical Boundaries with Music

Nobody's Toy

Again - to reiterate: a physical boundary involves respecting personal space and setting limits on physical touch.

When I was in my early 20's, however: I was not good at this. I consistently gave of myself until I was on empty, and I struggled with the concept unhealthy boundaries [or lack of] when it came to physical touch.

It wasn't until a rather traumatic relationship resulted in multiple boundaries being crossed that I realized I needed to be my own best friend, and start implementing some serious boundary setting.

Which is how the song: Nobody's Toy came to life.

Even now - over a decade later - I can listen, reflect on and feel empowered to maintain healthy boundaries for my own identity, sanity, and safety.

Setting Conversational Boundaries with Music

Fire Away

Another reminder: conversational boundaries involve being mindful of the types of topics discussed with different people, which - I get it - can be difficult.

Whether that's a conversation with your best friend, your neighbor, the shop assistant, or even your parents: conversational boundaries are tough to implement, let alone honor.

There are a number of taboo topics that can negatively impact our emotional, mental and even spiritual wellness.

Which is how the song Fire Away came to be - it was my anthemic reminder to myself of how important it is to understand that, quite honestly, what people think of me is none of my business. So I just don't need to respond, or interact.

Water off a ducks back: their words are simply that. Words. And - most often - reflections of their own thoughts and understandings of the world... they're not necessarily my reality.

Unless I allow it to be.

A person can give me everything they have: negative judgments, criticisms, or insults, but I'm setting my boundary for myself, and not letting that conversation in.

Setting boundaries is about taking care of yourself

Setting boundaries is an essential practice for self-care. It involves recognizing and communicating your personal limits, needs, and priorities to ensure that you are taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. Boundaries serve as a form of protection, helping you maintain a healthy balance between your own well-being and the demands of others or external circumstances.

When you set boundaries, you are prioritizing your own needs and asserting your right to self-care. It allows you to allocate your time, energy, and resources in a way that aligns with your values and promotes your well-being. Setting boundaries also helps you manage stress, prevent burnout, and maintain healthy relationships by fostering clear communication, respect, and mutual understanding with others.... all benefits we receive from songwriting as well [fancy that!]

I've been using music and songwriting my entire life to not only empower myself, but equip myself with anthems that help me to feel empowered, strong, and resilient.

Each and every song has served as a reminder that I'm able to set and maintain healthy time-, physical- and conversational- boundaries that ensure my own safety and sanity.

Because - quite simply - setting healthy boundaries helps us to ensure we're safe, healthy and able to hit our goals in life. And who doesn't want success?

Want to Know More?

If this blog post hit home with you at all, I'd love to discuss in more detail with you about how music and songwriting might be what you're looking for when it comes to establishing, implementing and ensuring your own boundaries in relationships.

Simply click here to book a free strategy session, and let's chat about turning your struggles into songs that will serve as anthemic reminders for your time-, physical- and conversational- boundaries as well.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

~ Emma G

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