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Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are the physical and emotional limits identified in a relationship that defines expectations and what is appropriate behavior between those people. Boundaries are not one size fits all. They are unique to each relationship and the parties involved in that relationship and limits are typically adjusted as situations and relationships grow and change. Boundaries are mediated by differences in personality, culture, and social context. Appropriate boundaries in one setting may appear bizarre in another setting. For example, the formal boundaries you have at work are most likely irrelevant when you are at home with your spouse. Healthy boundaries allow people to communicate their wants and needs while respecting the wants and needs of others. In families with healthy, flexible boundaries each individual is more likely to become a distinct person with interests and skills that are unique to them. Healthy boundaries give people a sense of well-being, self-control, and self-esteem. A relationship without healthy boundaries is susceptible to becoming toxic which negatively impacts the well-being of those involved. Unhealthy boundaries can cause one to feel taken advantage of, overwhelmed, stressed, resentful, and ultimately it can damage the relationship.

There are quite a few reasons why some people struggle with unhealthy boundaries. These include a desire for control, fear of rejection, lack of experience with setting limits, an overly agreeable personality, and/or low self-esteem. There are three different categories for boundaries. Clear boundaries are flexible and directly stated. Families with clear boundaries often provide warmth, support, and stability, while also encouraging each member to be assertive, develop their own interests, and express their needs. While clear boundaries are adaptable, rigid boundaries are closed and inflexible. In families with rigid boundaries, it can be difficult to communicate needs and express individuality. Diffuse boundaries (or open boundaries) are loose and unclear. Families with open boundaries can be enmeshed and codependent and it can be hard for individual members to have their needs met. Setting healthy boundaries helps you avoid burnout, feel less resentment, and feel more balanced.

So, how can you tell if a boundary has been crossed? One of the fastest ways to determine if a boundary has been crossed is to ask yourself how you feel about the situation. Our instincts tell us a lot and our bodies tend to respond before our brains do. If you feel off, unsafe, uneasy, or have any negative physical sensations these can be a sign that the situation has made you uncomfortable and a boundary has been crossed.

There are different types of boundaries that you can set with the people that you interact with. These include:

  1. Physical Boundaries: Physical boundaries involve your body, your personal space, and the physical space that belongs to you. Examples of physical boundaries include having people knock before entering your bedroom or telling someone you prefer to shake hands instead of giving a hug.

  2. Sexual Boundaries: Sexual boundaries involve your sexual self and intimate personal spaces. This type of boundary includes choices about the type of sexual activity, timing, partners, etc.

  3. Intellectual Boundaries: Intellectual boundaries consist of your personal ideas, beliefs, and thoughts. Healthy intellectual boundaries respect that others may have different ideas. These boundaries can be crossed when someone is belittling or invalidating your ideas or thoughts.

  4. Emotional Boundaries: Emotional boundaries center around your feelings and personal details. Healthy emotional boundaries ensure that others are respectful of your emotional well-being and comfort level.

  5. Financial / Material Boundaries: These boundaries extend to your belongings and money. You can tell a financial or material boundary has been crossed if you feel pressured to give away things or loan money when you don't want to.

  6. Time Boundaries: Time boundaries are important for allowing you to focus on your priorities and personal life. They let you choose how to spend your time. An example of a healthy time boundary is declining a party invite after you have had a stressful week at work, and you need some time to recuperate.

The boundaries you feel comfortable with may vary from person to person. Your beliefs, values, culture, and traditions all play a role in helping you decide your limits. When setting limits you should consider your goal for the boundary and what you hope to accomplish. If you are new to setting boundaries, it is always a good idea to start small and simple and practice setting the boundary in a mirror. While you are setting boundaries, be sure to be as clear as possible. Try not to raise your voice. Express your expectations for yourself and others as well as what you are comfortable with. Stating your needs in terms of what you would like as opposed to what you don't like can help the other person be more receptive to your boundaries, especially if you are a people pleaser or feel very attached to the other person. There may be some discomfort or guilt that arises because you set a boundary. It is important to acknowledge and accept those feelings, but do not judge it, just simply notice it and let it go. These feelings are common, but they should not prevent you from defining your limits. Setting healthy boundaries requires you to be assertive and utilize good communication skills. Once you have set your boundary make sure that you enforce it. Not everyone in your life will respect your boundaries all of the time. Whether it's an accident or intentional, if someone crosses a boundary, restate your needs in a calm manner. You should also identify reasonable consequences for crossing the boundary. For example, if someone has a habit of being extremely rude during interactions you can inform them “If you do that again, I will have to end the conversation.” It's important that you only set boundaries that you are able to follow through on. If you set a consequence and do not enforce it, the other person may feel encouraged to continue overstepping your boundaries.

Boundaries are not just necessary for personal relationships; they are an important part of relationships in every setting. The boundaries you choose to implement will differ based on the setting you are in and who you are setting it with. Below are some tips for setting boundaries based on your relationship and setting:

  • With a partner: Setting boundaries with your partner helps to maintain a relationship that is healthy and supports both parties involved. When setting boundaries with your significant other, it is ideal to have the discussion during a time when both parties are calm. Try to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Using “I” statements can prevent you from sounding accusatory and/or reduce the likelihood that your partner becomes defensive. When having the discussion, you should be fully present and in the moment.

  • With parents: Addressing issues with parents can be extremely stressful. When setting boundaries with parents you should be respectful. You have the power to set the tone for the discussion. When you treat others with respect, they are more likely to respect you back. You should also try to stay calm. Some parents may respond to boundary setting poorly. If they do get upset, try your best to stay cool. While you cannot control the choices they make, you can control how you respond to them. You should also try to keep it simple. If you have a lot of limits you want to set, pick the one that brother you most to address first.

  • With friends: When setting boundaries with friends, you should stay calm and be kind. In addition, you should try to avoid “ghosting” the friend. It may feel easier at times to avoid the issue or your friend. But this can cause you to lose out on a potentially great friendship and it robs your friend the opportunity to address the issue and grow. You should also try to avoid gossiping. It can be tempting to discuss your frustration with a mutual friend, but your words can get back to them and it could potentially damage your friendship.

  • At work: Having boundaries at work is extremely important. Unhealthy work boundaries can follow you home and negatively impact your quality of life. Unhealthy work boundaries can lead to emotional exhaustion and reduced happiness. However, setting boundaries at work can lead to a greater sense of empowerment. If you are someone who works at home, the boundaries between work and home can become blurry. Be sure to set a firm stop time and take breaks. Familiarize yourself with the chain of commands at your job and know who to go to when you need guidance. If it is possible and appropriate, you can involve a manager or supervisor. However, try to avoid gossiping about the problem with another colleague.

While boundary setting is important, it is also equally as important to respect the boundaries set by others. When someone sets a limit with you, it can feel shameful or cause frustration. It is important to keep in mind that when someone voices their boundaries they are helping you learn what makes them feel happy and safe. If you feel a negative emotion as a result of someone setting a boundary you should take a moment to breathe and listen to the other person. When discussing boundaries, you are allowed to communicate your needs so that you both can reach a compromise. However, it is important to note that the other person knows what is best for them and everyone has their own way of feeling and processing emotions. If you accidentally overstep a boundary, you should apologize. We are all human and make mistakes, and acknowledging when we make mistakes can help the other person to feel more comfortable and gives you the opportunity to grow.

Setting healthy boundaries is an extremely important life skill and a form of self-care. Healthy boundaries are necessary for creating healthy relationships. Limits can look different depending on the people and the setting, but they are essential for all areas of your life where you are interacting with others. It is easy to feel guilty, shameful, or selfish when you first start practicing boundary setting. However, it's important to not let that stop you. Boundaries are necessary for good mental health and well-being.

Written by,

Tierney Puig, Intern



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