Boundaries are part of self care. They are healthy, normal and necessary. [Doreen Virtue]
We've all experienced having someone crash our personal space. Our response depends on both our personal history and on the nature of the crashing in. We may feel anything from slightly disgruntled all the way through to traumatised and abused.
Someone who has been loved and nurtured throughout their childhood will know in the cells of their body what is right and what is wrong. They will have a strong container and boundaries will come naturally to them. They will be confident with their personal space, will feel that they have a right to it and will have a history of it being respected.
So if you unconsciously crash their space, you will get a gentle swat to back off as if you've been an annoying fly. It is not necessarily a big deal - your timing may just be off.
However, for someone who has been emotionally, physically or sexually abused as a child, the picture is very, very different. Their natural boundaries were violated and they do not know what a safe container feels like. They are apologetic about their personal space and feel inadequate, incomplete, unworthy, tainted. Most importantly they often feel selfish if they try and set boundaries - maybe through some deep seated belief that they are bad and must be available for all and sundry to take advantage of - to make up for the fact that they are alive.
Defining boundaries is not selfish in any way, shape or form. It is a basic human need and part of your health and well-being.
My sense is the shame of early violation makes it very, very difficult to claim your power, to claim your personal space, and take authority about what you will and will not accept as part of your life's experiences. Defining boundaries is not simple. It doesn't work if you just state them. You have to own them in the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual realms: only then will others necessarily get the message.
A good way to start is to take a blank piece of paper. Draw a stick person to represent you and draw a big bubble around you. Within the bubble, name and write down all the things/experiences you welcome in your life. In a different colour pen (a colour that does not resonate with you), name and write down all the things/experiences you do not welcome at all in your life. Pin this somewhere you can see daily - especially in areas where interactions with others happen (maybe near the front door or near the landline if you still use one).
So now you're on your way to owning your boundaries from a mental place - what about from a physical place? Here's a really good exercise to try with a close friend or partner (someone you feel safe with). Stand either in the middle of a room or in the garden and ask your helper to stand opposite you - with approximately 12 feet between you. Bring your awareness into your body as much as you are able and ask your helper to slowly walk towards you. Notice when your body reacts to their presence - is it far away or close? Where do you start to feel impinged upon? Then get your helper to walk clockwise around you - again starting about 12 feet away. Which direction makes the hairs on the back of your neck go up? When they are on your right hand side or your left? When they are behind you? Play around and notice what you notice. This is great training on physical boundaries. Then swap over - and as you move towards your helper, notice when you feel their boundaries are uncomfortable or being encroached. See if it matches with their sense. Dialogue. See what you learn about each other's space.
So what about emotional boundaries? A key thing here it to learn how to be clear about the difference between your emotions and the emotions of others around you. We can be emotional sponges - and not know where we end and someone else begins. We can be emotionally drained after spending time with some people. We can suppress emotions we feel are 'bad' and only allow out the ones we label as 'good'. True emotion is energy in motion - e-motion. Allowing yourself to feel the wide range of emotions, without filtering or judging yourself is a great first step. It's helpful to identify them and learn to express them: own them (I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel disappointed). And when you feel overwhelmed by emotions, yours or others, find the movement to move them through - go striding through the forest, dance, shake, run, jog, go to the gym. Don't let them get stuck. And if you don't know where you end and another person begins - go and spend some time alone. Find you edges again, your own centre of equilibrium. Trees are great companions for this.
And finally, a few things about spiritual boundaries. These are your core values and what make up your central belief system. You may be in a beginning place with this or as an adept - however, I'd always recommend coming back to check what they are, whether they've changed, what holds you together and makes you tick. The clearer you are in this area, the more obvious it will be when an external event/person/decision is in line with your spiritual boundaries or not.
If we don't set boundaries, we can feel used and mistreated. Resentment grows. Passive aggressiveness seeps out. We repeat the cycles we ourselves were violated by. Boundaries are about respect: respect of self, respect of others, respect of life itself.