What are boundaries?
One of my favorite descriptions of what a boundary represents is: “A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear pace where you begin and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you”.
Generally healthy boundaries are set to help you maintain stable mental and emotional health. Boundaries can be loose, rigid, somewhere in between, or even nonexistent. Lacking appropriate boundaries can indicate that we may not have a strong identity or are enmeshed with another person(s). Healthy boundaries serve to help you establish your identity, help you define your individuality and help you determine what you will and will not hold yourself responsible for.
Healthy boundaries are a CRUCIAL component of self-compassion. This is because poor boundaries in our lives can lead to us experiencing resentment, anger, burnout, and even avoidance of others. Unhealthy boundaries generally have a negative impact on all aspects of your life. Setting healthy boundaries can have many benefits, including helping you make decisions based on what is best for you, and not just the people around you. This autonomy is important in self-compassion and self-care, it allows you to be able to refill your own cup, rather than relying on others.
The 6 different types of boundaries broken down.
Boundaries are complicated and have multiple uses within our lives. There are 6 main types of boundaries that we can implement within our lives. Those types as identified by Therapist Aid, are as follows:
“Physical boundaries refer to personal space and physical touch. Healthy physical boundaries include an awareness of what’s appropriate, and what’s not, in various settings and types of relationships (hug, shake hands, or kiss?). Physical boundaries may be violated if someone touches you when you don’t want them to, or when they invade your personal space (for example, rummaging through your bedroom).
Intellectual boundaries refer to thoughts and ideas. Healthy intellectual boundaries include respect for other’s ideas, and an awareness of appropriate discussion (should we talk about the weather, or politics?). Intellectual boundaries are violated when someone dismisses or belittles another person’s thoughts or ideas.
Emotional boundaries refer to a person’s feelings. Healthy emotional boundaries include limitations on when to share, and when not to share, personal information. For example, gradually sharing personal information during the development of a relationship, as opposed to revealing everything to everyone. Emotional boundaries are violated when someone criticizes, belittles, or invalidates another person’s feelings.
Sexual boundaries refer to the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of sexuality. Healthy sexual boundaries involve mutual understanding and respect of limitations and desires between sexual partners. Sexual boundaries can be violated with unwanted sexual touch, pressure to engage in sexual acts, leering, or sexual comments.
Material boundaries refer to money and possessions. Healthy material boundaries involve setting limits on what you will share, and with whom. For example, it may be appropriate to lend a car to a family member, but probably not to someone you met this morning. Material boundaries are violated when someone steals or damages another person’s possessions, or when they pressure them to give of lend them their possessions.
Time boundaries refer to how a person uses their time. To have healthy time boundaries, a person must set aside enough time for each facet of their life such as work, relationships, and hobbies. Time boundaries are violated when another person demands too much of another’s time.” – Therapist Aid
What are some examples of healthy boundaries?
An example of a healthy boundary around time: A woman in the middle of packing up her house for a move might not let a friend who dropped by unannounced stay too long, that way she can focus on getting what she needs to accomplish without feeling guilty. Similarly, that woman might politely decline a friend’s request to help her pack if she feels that packing should be a personal process. Time boundaries can help manage demands on people’s time in a manner that is respectful.
Another example of setting healthy boundaries, related to relationships, would be when one partner asks for one or two nights each week alone, as opposed to seeing each other on a daily basis. Another example would be a new mother asking her partner to take on more responsibility with the newborn, such as giving baths, so that she can have more time to herself.
Boundaries are also important in parent-child relationships. For example, parents might ask their children to never enter their bedroom without knocking first, in order to maintain privacy. Children might ask their parents to never read diaries or journals so that they can maintain privacy of their own. Of course parents can choose whether to respect a child’s proposed boundaries, they might reject boundaries for safety reasons, but it important to be clear about the boundaries they do intend to respect in order ot build trust with their children.
What makes maintaining boundaries SO HARD?
Maintaining boundaries can be difficult since all of us are raised with differing backgrounds, understanding, or even lack of understanding of what boundaries are. When we encounter others that have boundaries we are not used, or lack thereof boundaries, we can experience a variety of different emotions and thoughts. It can be anxiety provoking to navigate relationships as a result of new boundaries, even more so when those boundaries are not communicated to us.
Communication is key in helping others to respect our boundaries, but it can be difficult to express our needs at times. We may experience guilt, anxiety or even shame when thinking about communicating or even openly communicating our boundaries to others. Our human nature to please and be liked by those around us tends to play a large role in our ability to maintain our self-respect and boundaries with others. Anxiety can easily feed off of these ‘what if’ questions and cause us to feel the need to violate our own boundaries in order to maintain our relationships, when in reality, we don’t have to.
How to set healthy boundaries.
The first part of setting boundaries is examining the boundaries that already exist, or lacking in one’s life. Then practice saying ‘no’, simply but firmly to things that you do not want to do. Try not to fall into overexplaining yourself, as everyone has the right to determine for themselves what they do and do not want to do.
Try to keep the focus on yourself. Instead of creating boundaries such as “You have to stop bothering me after work”, focus on what you need, “I need time to myself when I get back from work”. This communicates your needs and creates a boundary that others can understand without creating the perception of blame on others.
Another important thing to remember is that it is impossible to set boundaries without setting consequences. This means that when you set a boundary it is extremely important to state the reason they are important. In general, the key to setting boundaries is first to figure out what you want from your various relationships, setting boundaries based on those desires, and then being clear with yourself and others about your boundaries.