“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others”
— Brene Brown
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the personal limits we set within our relationships. Healthy boundaries will tell and show others acceptable ways of communicating, interacting, and behaving with us. Setting and maintaining boundaries can be challenging as they are invisible, unique to each individual, and can change over time.
Our boundaries will likely vary based on the people we are surrounded by and the setting we are in. For example, it is possible that boundaries loosen up when in the presence of others with whom we are more personally close, rather than professionally. It is important to always remember that all healthy relationships have defined boundaries, and they are there to maintain mutual respect, protection, expectations, and support with the people around us.
The following examples may be applied to any high communication relationships such as with significant others, parents, in-laws, friends, bosses, and co-workers.
Why are boundaries beneficial?
Communicating personal boundaries with others has significant health and resilience benefits within relationships. Within relationships, boundaries generate a feeling of safety, allowing for mutual trust and understanding.
A person with healthy boundaries has a clear recognition of their own needs and values allowing for a stronger identity, better communication with others, and an increased sense of happiness and autonomy. Ideally, when your wants and needs are respected you are more likely to feel heard, validated, and appreciated. These people are well-liked interpersonally and professionally as they not only feel content with themselves, but they have mutual respect for others. Overall, these individuals have experienced better mental health and more positive social relationships as they have the time and space to flourish. (1, 8)
The first step to setting healthy boundaries (or reevaluating them) is looking for areas in which changes need to be made and what your limits are. Identifying why these boundaries are important to you can help with finding value in staying true to them.
Identifying relationships which hold discomfort or resentment may be a sign of a lack of healthy boundaries. Putting healthy boundaries in place will help avoid future conflict and resentment (9). When setting boundaries, it is critical to be clear with yourself, and others!
What are examples of healthy boundaries to set?
Healthy boundaries reflect your personal values, beliefs, and guidelines. They can be formed within multiple aspects of a person's life. A break in boundaries occurs when another person isn't aware of your needs or chooses to disrespect or ignore them. It may be tough initially, but it is so important to communicate boundaries clearly.
Basic examples of types of boundaries may include the following:
Healthy physical boundaries may refer to setting limits on your level of comfort with others in your personal space such as:
Finding independence outside of the relationship, avoiding codependency
Creating a space without distraction
Communicating things you will not tolerate
Right to communicate and have respect for physical needs (bedtime, working out, food)
Right to privacy (thoughts/electronics)
Healthy intellectual boundaries may be set in an instance where others may not be respecting your ideas or beliefs such as:
Sharing mutually/not feeling the need to overshare
Right to make independent choices
Ability to express spirituality
Emotionally, healthy boundaries should emphasize respect for your feelings and emotions, as well as how you express and accept the feelings and emotions of others. Some examples include:
Ability to communicate your feelings
Expecting respectful communication
Being able to separate from the negative emotions of others
Material boundaries can be healthy as they set limits on sharing possessions such as:
Financial: independent funds and accounts
Sharing clothes or electronics with others
Time boundaries set limits on the demands others can place on one's time such as:
Staying true to plans and respecting the boundaries of others
Ability to manage time respectfully, even when alone
Not taking your work home, working off hours
Within intimate relationships, important boundaries to communicate with your partner may also be set around time spent together, texting, money, sex, honesty, permission, and much more (2). Healthy boundaries in relationships are best met when they are reciprocal, so be sure to ask your partner about their needs from you as well! (3)
An imbalance of healthy boundaries in the workplace can make it difficult to maintain a work-life balance and result in feelings of unappreciation, disrespect, and burnout. Moreso with the increase in working from home, the distinction has become more challenging. Setting healthy boundaries at work may look like saying no to working longer hours than needed, limiting unnecessary overtime and prioritizing family time, avoiding taking work home on the weekends and evenings, voicing your opinion, not taking on more than you can handle, and keeping relationships professional. (4)
Are there unhealthy boundaries?
It is empowering to set healthy boundaries as they help you maintain self-respect and enjoy healthy relationships. On the other hand, unhealthy boundaries disregard your own and others' values, wants, needs, and limits. This can result in unhealthy relationships, dependency, depression, and anxiety (7). It is important to note that unhealthy boundaries are typically too rigid or too loose.
Rigid boundaries may actually be self-serving, controlling, or violate the boundaries of another person. They can also create walls between ourselves and others, leading to too much separation, loneliness, and personal disappointment. (5)
Loose boundaries simply don't provide enough personal protection or separation, which may leave you feeling like a people pleaser, overinvolved, taken advantage of, and tired. (6)
How does therapy help with boundaries?
There are significant barriers that can stand in the way of developing healthy boundaries in relationships. Oftentimes clients will stop themselves from implementing boundaries with fears that they are being “too assertive” or “selfish”, as well as fears of guilt, rejection, and conflict. However, it is critical that all healthy individuals maintain some aspect of boundaries with others.
Therapy can help with letting go of judgment, exploring personal values and desires, and discussing where changes may be important. Once goals are developed, together a therapist and client can identify steps that can be taken towards expressing goals warmly with others, as well as set limits.
Therapy can also help uncover areas in which thought patterns or “schemas” are stopping you from executing boundaries with others or where potential past traumas are interfering with healthy relationship boundaries.
On the other hand, boundary violations are inevitable and when this occurs therapy can help with navigating the challenges that come along with those situations. Oftentimes when a person's boundaries are violated they feel threatened, angry, resentful, or frustrated. These types of feelings can set off physical and emotional reactions which therapists are skilled in working through and improving in session.
If you are looking for guidance in creating, implementing, or maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships, please reach out to Heritage Counseling & Consulting. We have a talented team of mental health professionals that can support your goals and help you take actionable steps to create healthy boundaries.