“HEALTHY BOUNDARIES”- The Unexplored Key to Effective Communication

Dr. Sunayana Shukla

Assistant Professor - Faculty of Commerce and Management

Often ignored, but ‘boundary setting’ is one of the major keys to effective communication. Often times it is observed that people find it extremely difficult to set healthy boundaries. Now the question that arises here is, what exactly does ‘healthy boundary’ mean? Just like fences allow us to control what enters our physical space, personal boundaries also do a similar job. They set the limits to what enters our mental and emotional space. Building solid boundaries is the foundation to building effective interpersonal and professional relationships. But how to figure out whether a person lacks healthy boundaries? Here are a few indicators:

  • A person agrees and says yes even when he does not feel like agreeing or saying yes to something.
  • A person is not able to speak up when he/she is mistreated.
  • A person lives in chronic fear about what others think of him/her.
  • A person feels guilty for taking a stand for himself/herself.
  • A person overshares details about his/her life.

These are few of the prominent signs of not having healthy boundaries, however, there could be several more. Not being able to say ‘no’ comes from a place of low self-esteem, needing validation from outside, abandonment issues or fear of being rejected. These emotions, when not processed properly, instigate the need to be accepted by anyone and everyone. Boundaries in communication could be physical, time related, conversational, content related, emotional or material. For instance, physical boundary may sound like asking not to be hugged or touched. Time based boundary may somewhat look like setting time ranges where the person will not remain available or does not wish to be contacted. Conversational boundary may deal with not engaging in conversations that make a person uncomfortable. Content-related boundaries are those where a person sets a boundary to the contents that he/she feels uncomfortable consuming. Emotional boundary is when a person freely communicates that he/she is not in the right emotional space to support or be emotionally available at the moment. Material boundary may look like not allowing your phone to be accessed without your permission. Having discussed all these, it becomes utmost important to address the solution to a crucial question– How to set healthy boundaries? Here are few tips, given by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend, on how to begin setting healthy boundaries.

  • Assess resentment- A person needs to be aware of his/her feelings of resentment, anger and hurt. This is a warning sign that one must start setting boundaries.
  • Define what’s most important- Prepare a list of your treasures- be it time, money, feelings or beliefs. Ask yourself how you want to treat these treasures and how you want others to treat these treasures.
  • Practice baby no’s– Baby nos could be practiced with a trustworthy friend after confirming with him/her if you could practice baby nos with him/her. For instance, you might say -I felt hurt when you were running late and didn’t let me know.” (Townsend, 1992)

Just like any other skill, setting healthy boundaries is a muscle that needs to be repeatedly exercised and becomes easier and easier as we practice it more and more.

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