Setting Boundaries: Selfish or Healthy?


/ˈbaʊnd(ə)ri/ -Pronunciation


– something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line.

A ‘boundary’ in its most elementary form means a ‘limit’. People often set boundaries on the land or properties they own, marking their territory; outsiders are not allowed to enter without the approval and permission of the owner. Similarly, in personal boundaries, there are limitations placed by an individual on thoughts and beliefs, feelings and emotions, or personal space and physical contact, as per their convenience. These boundaries help people to feel safe and comfortable in their own emotions. In simple words, personal boundaries are the steps that you take in order to keep yourself mentally and emotionally healthy.

We are often told by society there is nothing like “setting boundaries”. “Why do you require boundaries? This is all nonsense that we have adapted from western culture”. However, what people fail to understand is that no matter how trivial this issue may seem like, setting boundaries is vital for one to maintain healthy functioning. Society doesn’t understand that it is not just about refusing to attend any particular event or even a simple phone call for that matter, there is more to it. We need to understand that even our most subtle and basic decisions impact our mental health quite severely; these decisions affect our well-being and are essential for our development as an individual. There is a perception that people who try to set boundaries are simply selfish, self-centred and all they care about is themselves.

I feel that this mentality of our society is a prime example as to why we, individuals, specifically require boundaries. Not everyone deserves to be a part of your life and as human beings, it is not possible to do everything as per what the other person requires you to do. You get to pick the people who are worthy of your company and it is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. Taking control of your own life or drawing a line in accordance with your mental health is not selfish, rather, it is a sign of responsible and mature behaviour.

Since childhood, the notion of only selfless people being worthy of our respect and adoration is instilled in us. While it comes from a good place, one must ask what good can come from being selfless at the cost of ruining your own self? When it comes to Indian families, the idea of respect is also constructed in a very messed up way. I agree that we should respect our elders and take their advice into consideration before making any decision because they have much more experience than us. However, what I don’t agree is them using our values and the respect we have for everyone, as an excuse to invade our privacy and breach our boundaries. Families often label people as uncaring and insensitive when they don’t follow their family’s rules or work as per their own wishes. Families take it as a sign of rebellion and disrespect. It baffles me as to why taking care of yourself is considered selfish and rude, but not breaching other’s boundaries and upsetting their mental peace! Family members often say that they are just trying to do what’s best for you because they love and care for you, but then why do they blame you for simply wanting to do what’s best for your mental health?

People need to acknowledge and accept the importance of boundaries for an individual’s growth. We need to accept that we all have the right to set boundaries and it does not make us selfish. Not forgiving someone or spending time to work on yourself is not selfish. Cutting off toxic people from your life is not selfish. Refusing to always listen to others is not selfish.

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