The term personal boundaries gets bandied around a lot in personal development and coaching circles. Its meaning isn't always clear and the concept can be a bit confusing, but the more I think about it the more I believe that it's all about respect. Respect for yourself and respect of others.
Here are some great examples I've encountered recently which might help to illustrate what boundaries are all about:
I have a friend who I know on both a personal and a professional basis and I called him at home one weekend to discuss something related to business. His response was unexpected. He said that he was really sorry, but he and his partner had a rule that they didn't discuss anything to do with their business on their home phone. He was thoroughly nice about it, but asked if I could call him back on Monday at work.
At first I felt quite taken aback by this but after I had recovered from the surprise I was really impressed at the strength of the boundary he and his partner had drawn around them. Work was work. Home was home. And even though they knew many people who crossed into both worlds they had made a very definite decision not to let work infiltrate into their home space and time.
A brilliant example of boundary setting.
And here's another. A few weeks ago I did a coaching consultation with someone who was telling me about the bold steps she had taken to respect her needs and her boundaries. The way she had achieved this was to choose to let go of all the activities that no longer served her. This was all about saying "no" to those things she had taken on and which were now eating into her valuable personal time. Being prepared to say "NO" to things that no longer serve you is another crucial part of setting strong boundaries. By saying "no" you're effectively saying "yes" to yourself.
Setting boundaries is all about making choices which respect yourself, your needs and your personal space and time. Once you're clear about what this looks like you need to let others know what is acceptable or not - just like my friend did with me. This doesn't have to be confrontational – just clear. I now know what his boundary is and will take pains to respect it. The interesting thing is that - even though it might feel uncomfortble to say "no" to others, or to make it clear what your boundaries are – more often than not you'll find that other people will respect you more for it.