Young Adulting and Boundaries
You may have heard many people say that it’s important to have good boundaries; but what exactly does that mean? As a young adult boldly diving into more and more independence, you may feel as though you already have great boundaries. You know how to handle yourself and other people. Maybe you feel like it’s your family that has no boundaries and everything and everyone always seems to try to be in your business! Whatever your feelings about boundaries, it is always helpful to do a little self-check-in and take an inventory of how you’re doing.
What Are Boundaries?
By definition, boundaries are a limit or a dividing line. Applying that concept to your own life, it often means deciding what you find to be acceptable or what is comfortable with you, and where that line is on what you deem unacceptable or uncomfortable. Boundaries may seem simple in theory, but may be more challenging to put into practice. You may recognize that you had a boundary only after it has been crossed (by someone else or by yourself!). Breached boundaries usually feel yucky and can bring up emotions like anger or feeling used. This may include someone encroaching on your time until you are exhausted, or you pushing yourself to work late into the night when you should have gone to bed hours ago. There are so many different types of boundaries and just as many ways to maintain them. This blog will be a general overview of some of different types of boundaries to be aware of in young adulthood.
What Boundaries Do I Need?
There are so many areas of life in which boundaries are important that go far beyond just relationships with other people. You also need to keep some healthy boundaries within yourself as well! Boundaries provide you with structure and reliability, all of which help you to maintain a sense of balance and wellbeing. Below are some different areas to consider when evaluating your boundaries.
Core starter boundary areas:
- Emotional Work
- Thoughts and Attention
It may seem like a no-brainer, but there is a finite number of minutes in the day and as far as I can tell there is no way to purchase more. That being said It’s okay to be stingy with your time. In fact, it’s essential to take time to yourself! Make sure you’re not working up until 5 minutes before you want to be asleep (we are all guilty of this), schedule yourself at least a 30 minute “cool-down” period to maintain healthy boundaries with your time. Same thing with schedule any tasks back to back. When possible give yourself a transition period to be able to ground yourself and better prepare mentally and physically for other tasks you may need to be doing. If you feel like you have to “sneak in” time to use the bathroom you may have A LOT of work to do on those time boundaries!
Eating those last 3 cupcakes all at once may be tempting, but setting boundaries around what you consume is important. Check in with yourself. Are you really hungry or just bored? Feeling some uncomfortable emotion that a sugar rush may temporarily cover up? This is just one example surrounding boundaries related to physical health, but maybe consider not even having certain tempting foods available in your house so it will be easier to remain focused on the “bigger” health picture when polishing off those cupcakes just isn’t worth it.
Another boundary related to health is physical/sexual boundaries with intimate partners or love interests. Are you able to negotiate “how far” you would like interactions to go? Can you say so in the moment? If not, consider talking it through before things get hot and heavy with a partner. Other health/touch-based boundaries may involve how you feel about hugs, physical closeness with strangers, or sharing food/beverages with others. Basically, anything that involves how our body interacts with the world or other people is a potential place for a boundary and consequently a boundary violation. Listen to what your body is telling you about what it is and is not comfortable with.
Relationships take work, whether they are intimate relationships, friends, or family. Check in with yourself to make sure you are not an emotional dumpster or metaphoric punching bag for someone else (or many someones). Connections should not feel one-sided. It’s ok to support other people, but a good test for relationships involves looking at your own emotional fuel tank. If your emotional tank doesn’t get filled by a particular person (and maybe gets drained faster by them), consider what leads you to keep putting in so much effort to fill their emotional tank.
Thoughts and Attention
Lastly, you control what you give your time and attention to. You can set limits on your phone for social media, for example. Maybe your time would be better spent not pining for that slim/fit body that you wish you had and instead going to the gym? Maybe you could be writing that short story that has been bouncing around in your head for months? Boundaries have to exist within yourself. Schedule a pity party for yourself if you need to, but make sure there are time limits to that too!
Types of Boundaries
It’s helpful to recognize that there are different types of boundaries. Know what category your boundaries fall in to and this will shape what you do with them.
Boundary structures can be:
- Fixed or Firm
- Flexible or Fluid
If a boundary is fixed or firm, these are your hard limits. Your non-negotiables. It’s ok to have those. Actually, it’s a good thing in many situations. Flexible or fluid boundaries are ones that you would like to have, or that they apply in certain situations, but they are not an across the board limit. You bend these at times. Remember, you get to decide what goes in what category. Boundaries can shift between fixed or flexible depending on what you decide is needed at that time. Re-evaluate these categories as on a regular basis. Being able to identify not just what type of boundaries you are setting, but why and with who can do a lot to help further shape them and the way you feel about yourself.
If you find that your boundary setting skills are lacking, you are not alone. Many of us have grown up in families where boundaries were not “a thing.” Maybe boundaries weren’t addressed at all or maybe you were expected to take emotional care of a parent, and thus feel the need to please or take the emotional temperatures of other people. You might feel the need to “fix” things and other people, even to your own detriment. If healthy boundaries were not modeled for you as a child, don’t despair, they can be learned. If there were no boundaries for you growing up, you may feel like it’s hard for you to hold your own emotional space. Maybe you feel like you “catch” other people’s emotions and it is difficult to recognize where you end and another begins. You can absolutely learn to hold your own emotional space without taking on the chaos of the outside world and of other people.
If you feel like you have good boundaries, fantastic! You do not have to apologize to anyone or anything for having them. But every once in a while, you may need to explain them to the important people in your life, that way they better get you and why you do things the way you do. Good communication can be just as important as healthy boundaries.
Finding, asserting, and maintaining boundaries can be a difficult task, no matter your age! However, the emerging adult may have some unique challenges as they are negotiating their family unit ties as well as more independence. If you are an emerging adult and feel like you need some extra support surrounding boundaries, or if you are a parent who needs extra support perhaps with letting go a bit, make an appointment with Angelus today. A thoughtful therapist can help you to navigate new waters in which the boundaries that perhaps worked well for you in the past, no longer suit you. This can be a challenging but empowering process.