What Are Healthy Boundaries?

Wictionary defines a boundary as “the dividing line between two areas.” Quite simply, just think of it as a wall or fence that keeps the bad out and the good in. I suppose it can be thought of in terms of “black and white,” with the line in between being the boundary. Over the course of the next several blogcasts, I’ll attempt to delineate between the two, but for now, let me try to help you get a better image of what healthy boundaries are. It’s not a difficult concept, but many times, for those who find themselves in a cloud of crisis or despair – understanding, recognizing and establishing healthy boundaries may not be as obvious as you might think.

Boundaries defined

I’m not going to get complicated here trying to define what boundaries are, so I’ll attempt to draw you a mental picture. Here are a couple of examples to think about to help understand what boundaries are. Try to imagine each situation. One thing should be pretty clear upon contemplating each of these “boundary” examples. At first, it seems simple to figure out the boundary or boundaries for each, but if you think about it, each example can have more than one boundary – in fact, each may have several, depending upon the circumstances and the desired outcome.

Example 1. The Island

You’re on a small island in the ocean, all alone and you can’t swim. What are your boundaries?

In this situation (with the desire to stay alive) it would seem that the only clearly defined boundary is the coast or shoreline. On an island you would have the freedom to explore wherever you like, as long as you stay away from the water, since you can’t swim. But, what if there are also dangerous creatures on that island? Perhaps there are snakes that nest in or around the base of certain trees in the wooded areas of the island. How would this affect your boundary lines? Instead of having the freedom to roam all over the island, you’ll need to stay out of the woods, to avoid being bitten by a poisonous, life-threatening snake. Or, what if you taught yourself to swim? How would that affect your boundary?

My point is simple, every situation or circumstance comes with its own set of boundaries. And many times, these boundaries are situational and relative to the person involved.

Example 2. The Recovering Alcoholic

For a person addicted to alcohol or “alcoholic” – boundaries are going to look very different than for one who does not have a drinking problem. As a recovering alcoholic, some of the boundaries may look like the following:

  • Avoid any pubs and bars.
  • Avoid the beer and wine isle in the grocery store.
  • Avoid social situations where alcohol is being served.
  • Avoid friends who drink during social drinking hours.
  • Avoid those who don’t support your being a teetotaler, who insist on your social drinking, instead of being abstinent.

As you probably already realize, the above “boundaries” can vary among recovering alcoholics, depending upon the degree of wellness and time elapsed. For a ten year reformed alcoholic, perhaps it’s okay to associate with friends during a social drinking hour. However, for a newly recovering alcoholic, the above boundaries must be carefully observed, to avoid temptation, which could lead to relapse.

Whether a non-swimmer on an island alone, an alcoholic trying to recover, or a person with other issues – good, established boundaries play an essential role in maintaining a healthy and happy life. Even the most well-adjusted, healthy individuals have established boundaries in place, whether they realize it or not. Boundaries are an essential part of their achieving healthy balance, success and happiness in life.

Your Take Away:

On a more personal level, what are your boundaries? If your life is currently riddled with problems, distress, discontent or crisis, it may be that you have boundary issues or “B.A.D.” Meanwhile, take the time to think about your current troubling situation. Make a list of the boundaries that are in place in your life. Are they working? If not, then maybe they need to reordered or changed.

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5 Responses to What Are Healthy Boundaries?

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