“Boundaries are, in simple terms, the recognition of personal space.”
― Asa Don Brown, The Effects of Childhood Trauma on Adult Perception and Worldview
Boundaries, also called personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. Healthy boundaries occur when one can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships. When setting boundaries they should be based on your values, or the things that are important to you. When setting boundaries remember they are yours and yours alone and they might align with who you are but at times may be unique. When going into any situation one should know their boundaries and it will lessen any discomfort.
Physical boundaries refer to personal space and physical touch. When one has healthy physical boundaries it includes an awareness of what’s appropriate, and what’s not, in various settings and types of relationships. These boundaries can be violated if someone touches you when you don’t want them to or when there is an invasion of your personal space.
Intellectual boundaries refer to thoughts and ideas. When one has healthy intellectual boundaries it includes respect for others’ ideas, and an awareness of appropriate discussion. These boundaries can be violated if someone dismisses or belittles another person’s thoughts or ideas.
Emotional boundaries refer to a person’s feelings. When one has healthy emotional boundaries it include limitations on when to share, and when not to share, personal information. These boundaries can be violated if someone criticizes, belittles, or invalidates another person’s feelings.
Sexual boundaries refer to the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of sexuality. When one has healthy sexual boundaries it involve mutual understanding and respect of limitations and desires between sexual partners. These boundaries can be violated if unwanted sexual touch, pressure to engage in sexual acts, leering, or sexual comments.
Material boundaries refer to money and possessions. When one has healthy material boundaries it involves setting limits on what you will share, and with whom. These boundaries can be violated if someone steals or damages another person’s possessions, or when they pressure them to give or lend them their possessions.
Time boundaries refer to how a person uses their time. When one has healthy time boundaries it looks like they have set aside enough time for each facet of their life such as work, relationships, and hobbies. These boundaries can be violated if another person demands too much of another’s time.
Common Boundary Traits
- Avoids intimacy and close relationships.
- Unlikely to ask for help.
- Has few close relationships.
- Very protective of personal information.
- May seem detached, even with romantic partners.
- Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejection.
- Overshares personal information.
- Difficulty saying “no” to the requests of others.
- Over involved with others’ problems.
- Dependent on the opinions of others.
- Accepting of abuse or disrespect.
- Fears rejection if they do not comply with others.
- Values own opinions.
- Doesn’t compromise values for others.
- Shares personal information in an appropriate way (does not over or under share).
- Knows personal wants and needs, and can communicate them.
- Accepting when others say “no” to them.
Truths about Boundaries
The truth about boundaries is that no matter how much we talk about them and say we need to keep firm, healthy boundaries in place, we can’t and won’t always do it. In honest, we mix boundary types. Let’s take a look at how at work we may keep healthy boundaries because it is the professional thing to do but then in a romantic relationship we will have porous boundaries due to an intense emotional connection with our partner. When we look at family we can have a mixture of all 3 boundary traits; rigid, porous and healthy. We based the appropriateness of boundaries on our environment, physical and the people in it. Imagine if you had very rigid boundaries in a work environment that wouldn’t be conducive the to your work ethic is relationship with coworkers and in turn become very toxic. Something else to take into consideration is culture when it comes to boundaries and boundary setting. Some cultures may have different boundary expectations and certain boundary types may be frowned upon. An example is in some cultures showing intense emotions or expressing emotions publicly is considered inappropriate so it is best to have rigid emotional boundaries; however, in other cultures it is encouraged.
When setting boundaries one must know their boundaries. Like we said before boundaries are yours and yours alone and they might align with who you are but at times may be unique. You always have the right to say “no” and when you do so, express yourself clearly and without ambiguity so there is no doubt about what you want. The following are some examples of what to say when setting healthy boundaries:
Now Here’s What To Do
Tips for Boundary Setting
- Know your limits: Know what’s acceptable to you, and what isn’t.
- Know your values: Know what’s most important to you, and protect it.
- Listen to your emotions: Try to understand what your feelings are telling you. Don’t Bury Them!
- Have self-respect: Try asking yourself if you are showing as much respect as you show to others.
- Have respect for others: Be sure that your actions are not self-serving, at the expense of others.
- Be assertive: When you know it’s time to set a boundary, don’t be shy. Say “no” respectfully, but without ambiguity.
- Consider the long view: Be willing to take a longer view of relationships, when appropriate.
Let’s Try It!
It’s your turn to take what you learned and explore your boundaries and assess if they are healthy, if not you have tools here that you can use to help you set new healthy boundaries. Here’s a boundary exploration exercise:
Think about a person, or a group of people, with whom you struggle to set healthy boundaries. This could mean that your boundaries are too rigid (you keep this person at a distance), too porous (you open up too much), or there’s some other problem that isn’t so easily labeled.
Who do you struggle to set healthy boundaries with? (e.g. “my husband” or “coworkers”)
In your relationship with the person you listed above, how are your boundaries in each of the following categories? Add a check in the appropriate column for each boundary category.
Take a moment to imagine what it will be like when you begin to establish healthy boundaries with this person. If your boundaries are too rigid, that might mean opening up. If they’re porous, it might mean setting limits and saying “no” when you don’t want to do something. Here are some prompts to use in addition to help explore your boundaries and help create new, healthier boundaries:
What are some specific actions you can take to improve your boundaries?
How do you think the other person will respond to these changes?
How do you think your life will be different once you’ve established healthy boundaries?
If you are looking for other ways to help improve yourself take a look at our other Educational Talk post on Mindfulness. It is linked below:
Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. ~ Henry Cloud