Just as countries have borders separating one from the other, human beings use boundaries to differentiate themselves from one another. Not only does a border define a physical area of land, it also signifies a culture, language, and value system. In much the same way, a person is physically contained within his/her own skin, and psychologically contained by his/her own thinking and feeling.
Healthy boundaries keep us safe, both physically and emotionally. They keep us clear about what’s “me” and what’s "not me". They are rules we make for ourselves that determine just how much others can come into our “space”. And like societal rules, personal boundaries can be looser or more rigid, depending on what the situation requires. The purpose of boundaries is to keep us feeling safe on the outside as well as the inside.
Healthy Boundaries are:
Flexible: we are able to be both close and distant, adaptable to the situation. We are able to let go of destructive relationships and connect with nurturing ones.
Safe: we are able to protect ourselves against exploitation from others. We can read cues that someone is selfish or abusive. Also, we are not offensive to others.
Connected: we are able to engage in balanced relationships with others and maintain them over time. As conflicts arise, we are able to work through them.
In order to develop healthy boundaries, we must know what we like and don’t, what feels good to us and what feels bad. We must know “who we are” and “who we are not”. Healthy boundaries are developed in childhood when a kid gets the message from caregivers that his/her thoughts and feelings matter. This happens when a parent models healthy boundaries by guiding and correcting a child in a firm, nurturing, and consistent manner. The parent doesn't use the child to regulate his/her own difficult emotions by beating the child, for example, or by demanding emotional nurturance from the child. When this occurs, a child grows up unable to separate his/her thoughts and feelings from others'. He/She takes undo responsibility for others' thoughts and actions, blames others for his/her feelings, or needs to control and manipulate in order to feel safe.
In therapy, we "redraw" our boundaries. We reconnect with our feelings and strengthen the muscle that sets limits and keeps us safe.