Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.
Healthy boundaries is a term that you may have heard about but you’re not sure what it really means. At times the phrase may be overused, but at its core setting healthy boundaries means making decisions about what you will allow into your life.
Personal boundaries encompass a wide range of things like physical contact, personal space, verbal interactions, and emotional wellbeing. It can also mean ensuring that you have time to take care of yourself and your personal needs.
You may not realize it, but each day you have the opportunity to create and maintain boundaries.
If you tell your child they can’t scream when they want breakfast, you’re setting a boundary.
If you tell your spouse you’d like help with the chores because you can’t accomplish all the tasks yourself, you’re establishing a boundary.
If you tell your boss that you can’t come in on Saturday, you’re again setting a personal boundary.
What Are Personal Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the limits people set in place in relationships. These boundaries show where one person ends and the other begins. This may sound ambiguous, but it basically means that people have separate and distinct needs.
Without boundaries, it’s difficult to distinguish between someone else’s needs and your own. You may feel that it’s your sole purpose to meet everyone else’s needs while ignoring your own.
You use personal boundaries each day of your life, but there are times when fear of letting someone else down, guilt, anxiety, or low self-esteem can get in the way of establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.
People who are highly empathetic can also struggle to keep proper boundaries because their need to help others can be overwhelming.
It’s also possible to have boundaries that are too rigid. People who have been hurt in the past or those who are afraid of letting go of control may establish firm and inflexible boundaries. This can lead to isolation or trouble forming deeper relationships with others.
Those with rigid boundaries often have trouble trusting others or may not listen to other people’s thoughts or ideas. This closed-off type of personal boundaries can also keep people from caring about or helping others.
Personal boundaries are used in a variety of areas of life and come up far more than you may realize. Below are some of the main types of boundaries and where you may experience them in your day-to-day life.
Main Types of Boundaries
Physical boundaries relate to anything to do with your physical body. It encompasses things like personal space, physical needs, intimacy, and privacy.
Those with weak personal boundaries may struggle to tell someone when they’ve received an unwanted touch.
They may also fail to speak up when their physical needs aren’t being met. For instance, they may not tell others when they’re feeling hungry or when they need rest for fear that they would be an inconvenience or let someone else down.
Examples of healthy physical boundaries include:
“I’m not a big fan of hugs. I’d prefer a handshake.”
“I don’t like to be touched that way.”
“I’m starting to get hungry. Would you like to get something to eat with me?”
Mental or Intellectual Boundaries
Mental and boundaries have to do with thoughts, opinions, and feelings.
People can sometimes become forceful when it comes to their own thoughts and opinions, expecting others to have the same thoughts and opinions. When people don’t share them, they may become angry or upset.
Each person has a right to their personal beliefs and opinions. In cases where someone else becomes forceful or angry in their viewpoint, it can be healthy to shut down those conversations and establish a boundary.
Examples of healthy mental boundaries include:
“I don’t think we can discuss this topic without becoming heated. Let’s choose something else to talk about.”
“It’s okay that we have different opinions. We don’t have to agree about everything.”
“I’m not comfortable with this topic.”
Spiritual or Religious Boundaries
Spiritual or religious boundaries are similar to mental boundaries in the sense that people have deeply held personal beliefs. Establishing spiritual or religious boundaries means having the freedom to worship or observe a religion the way that you think is correct.
Although religion is often built on community, and it’s common to receive instruction from a religious leader, each person has to establish their own personal beliefs and ethics.
Examples of healthy spiritual boundaries include:
“I can’t participate in this activity as it goes against my personal beliefs.”
“I pray before I eat a meal, you can join me if you’d like.”
“I don’t agree with your interpretation of that, but it doesn’t have to come between us.”
Having emotional boundaries means recognizing that all people have their own thoughts and feelings. When establishing healthy boundaries, you realize that your feelings are separate from others, and you aren’t solely responsible for their feelings.
While it’s essential to respect other people’s feelings, it’s not your job to ensure that everyone is happy all the time. It’s okay to disagree about things and it’s okay to make your emotional needs known.
On the flip side, those with rigid personal boundaries may struggle to take into account the feelings and emotional needs of others. They may be very closed off and refuse to share their feelings or ask about someone else’s. They may not be okay with someone else having different thoughts or feelings than their own.
Examples of healthy emotional boundaries include:
“Even if it’s not your intention, when you say things like that it hurts my feelings.”
“I would love to talk with you about these personal issues in your life, but at the moment I don’t have the emotional energy. Can we pick it up again tomorrow?”
“I’m having a really hard day and I need someone to talk with. Would you be available to listen?”
Time and Energy Boundaries
Another type of personal boundary is time and energy. This type of personal boundary is easy to breach, especially for someone who doesn’t want to let other people down.
Imagine a scenario where an employee is continually asked to take on extra responsibility at work without extra compensation. Someone with loose personal boundaries may continue accepting the workload without saying anything.
Time and energy personal boundaries may also be put to the test when it comes to family. Family members may expect you to willingly give up your time to babysit their children, help do work around their house, or get ready for events.
It’s common and good to aid family, but not when it gets in the way of taking care of personal needs.
On the other hand, someone who has rigid boundaries may be completely closed off to helping others or may be very strict with offering time or energy to others. They may say no to every opportunity to volunteer and refuse to help with family functions or additional work in the workplace.
Examples of healthy time or energy boundaries include:
“I would love to help watch your kids so you can go on a date, but I’m not available this weekend. Let’s sit down and look at our schedules to plan a time when the kids can come over.”
“Over the past months, I have been given many new responsibilities at work. Thank you for teaching me so much about the business through hands-on experience. I’m interested in hearing about any promotional opportunities that may be available. Would now be a good time to talk about this?”
“I’m spending time with my family this weekend, so I won’t be available to work.”
Material or Financial Boundaries
Material goods or finances are another area that requires personal boundaries. Growing up with siblings or living with a roommate you may experience times when someone uses your belongings without permission. You may also have a friend or family member who is always asking for money or expecting you to pay for things.
It’s good to be generous, but there are times when people will take advantage of someone’s kindness. They may also borrow things and return them in bad repair, or they may continually ask for money.
Financial boundaries may also be necessary for relationships in which money is shared. For example, one spouse may be freer with spending than another. This will require clear communication from both parties so each person can feel comfortable with the household spending.
Examples of healthy material or financial boundaries include:
“I’m happy for you to borrow my car, but it’s important to me that you return it in the shape it was given to you when you borrowed it.”
“I won’t be able to contribute financially at this time, but I’d be happy to help in other ways.”
“I wish I could come on that trip this weekend, but it doesn’t fit into my budget. Please let me know the next time you’d like to do something like this.”
If you or someone you know needs help with setting boundaries please share this and know that there's support.