Who ever said, "Good fences make good neighbors," was talking about boundaries and minding your own business. That can get to be complicated sometimes. People who are addicted, compulsive, or codependent have a tendency to mow down fences both literally and figuratively.
There are two kinds of boundaries: physical and emotional. Physical boundaries are about space: "You can come this close and no closer," or, "You stay in your yard and I will stay in mine." If a door is shut, you do not open it without permission from the person behind it; you don't read other people's mail or touch their money unless invited to do so. It is not ok to use someone's possessions without permission. You get the picture. Physical boundaries are taught in school and laws are made to protect them.
Emotional boundaries are harder to define but equally as important. People who have grown up in dysfunctional families or live with compulsivity or addictions know very little about healthy emotional boundaries. So maybe the best way to make it clear is to illustrate unhealthy emotional boundaries:
The human psyche is a wonderful thing. Everyone has a gift for rationalizing behavior or making excuses for inappropriate conduct, but no one can easily stifle that still, small voice inside that says "This just isn't right."
Some people have not been taught that they have a right to set boundaries and to expect to be treated lovingly and respectfully. Some people are like drops of water running together: put two drops of water near each other on a table and when they run together you cannot tell which drop is which. These people are ensnared, have lost a sense of self. Other people construct solid walls. Walls shut people out and keep one from having intimate relationships. Walls are built by hurt people to keep from getting hurt again. A low self-worth, a need for approval, a fear of abandonment, ignorance of decorum all can lead to one being either ensnared or walled off.
Healthy boundaries are limits you put on yourself and others. They are good manners, respectful behavior and social etiquette. Healthy boundaries go hand in hand with feelings of self-worth and self-respect. One need never apologize for setting boundaries and demanding respect.
Evelyn Leite has been in the addiction and mental health counseling field for over 25 years. She founded Living with Solutions in 1989 to help addicts and their families to heal from abuse, grief, trauma and other issues common in homes with addiction present.