What is a Boundary?
Boundaries define our limits or borders within our relationships; it defines what we are willing to allow in our lives. There are three main types of Boundaries: physical, intellectual, and emotional. Most of us are familiar with physical boundaries, but other kinds of boundaries are also crucial.
The limits you set regarding your body and personal space are your physical boundaries. It refers to touching, approaching, or seeing you. An example of a physical boundary would be refusing hugs you don’t want, shutting your curtains, or locking your bedroom door. You are responsible for your body and your choices regarding your body, including exercise, nutrition, sleep, and self-care.
Emotional boundaries are about feelings. Emotional boundaries refer to the ability to accept, recognize and express emotions, independent of the feelings of others. Having healthy emotional boundaries helps us understand that we are in charge of our feelings and not easily influenced by the emotions or moods of other people. It helps us find that healthy balance where we are kind and empathic with others but do not take their feelings or emotions as our own. We can think of an emotional boundary as the ability to differentiate between the feelings and emotions that belong to you and the feelings and emotions that belong to others. Emotional boundaries also allow us to manage our problems without blaming or taking responsibility for others.
Intellectual boundaries refer to our thoughts and the thoughts of others. Intellectual boundaries are a way to identify and assert our mental independence. They enable us to have and express our own ideas, thoughts, beliefs, values, and opinions.
Setting these intellectual boundaries helps us distinguish our ideas from those derived from other sources or people—for example, not being easily swayed by other’s opinions and doing our own research to come to our own conclusions. However, respecting others’ views is another benefit of having intellectual boundaries. Forcing others to agree with your ideas violates their intellectual boundaries. This boundary is the foundation for mutual intellectual respect.
Other boundaries include things like time and money, which have a limit. For example, time is invariable; it is a constant. Each person has a limited amount of time in their day. Our responsibility is to be aware of our time constraints to complete tasks on time and not be late. Moreover, it may be harmful to take on more work than we can do in a given time. Being aware of our time constraints, we can better manage how much we can fit into a day and be mindful of the time constraints imposed by the tasks we accept. For example, your boss gives you multiple challenging tasks with impossible deadlines. In this instance, It is important to communicate politely that time constraints could affect productivity.
You also get to set boundaries regarding your money. Your money is your responsibility. You are responsible for your choices about your money– how much and how well you spend it is your responsibility. Others cannot be held accountable for the choices you make regarding spending or for lack of discipline.
Setting boundaries is about taking care of yourself.
When you set up boundaries, the intention is to protect yourself, not to create walls between you and others. For example, suppose you suffer from motion sickness and refuse to go on a boat trip during a storm in choppy water. In that case, boundaries can prevent you from experiencing a very unpleasant experience. You protect your mental and physical well-being by saying “no” to things or situations that could cause you stress or make you miserable.
What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries allow us to have good relationships with those in our lives. It is important to set our boundaries and also respect the boundaries of others.
Healthy boundaries allow us to:
- Protect our emotional and physical space from encroachment
- Have equality and shared responsibilities in our relationships
- Be assertive and speak with confidence
- Separate our thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires from other people.
- It empowers us to take responsibility and make healthy choices for ourselves
- Increase self-care, self-esteem, and self-respect.
Unhealthy boundaries are usually characterized by:
- Oversharing or closing yourself off, for example, sharing too much too soon or not sharing anything at all and not expressing your wants and needs.
- Feeling responsible for other people’s feelings, including happiness, sadness, and anger.
- Having an inability to say “no.”
- Basing your thoughts and feelings about yourself and how others treat you
- Allowing others to make decisions for you and not taking responsibility for your own life
General Tips to set healthy Boundaries:
Things we can say:
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that”
“I can’t at this moment.”
“I won’t be able to help. “
“I don’t want to participate.”
“This is unacceptable/inappropriate.”
“Not at the moment. “
“I would love to help, but this is not the right time. “
“Thank you for the invitation, but I cannot make it to your event. “
Things we can do:
Respect others and don’t put them down, yell at or ignore them. You can be firm, but you can still communicate your message respectfully and politely.
Ensue confident body language:
Maintain appropriate eye contact and body language; mind your tone of voice and volume – do not yell or whisper.
Plan boundary-setting ahead of time:
When entering a challenging situation or discussion, try to know what boundaries you want to set or enforce. When we plan ahead, it may help us feel more confident and at ease.
Consider the needs of the other person when it is appropriate. While you are not required to compromise, sometimes compromise can be a part of a healthy partnership.
Dr. Carolina Raeburn, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in Miami who provides a warm and empathic approach to therapy. She helps people navigate through challenging times and set healthy boundaries.
*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.