Why are boundaries important?
Last month, my colleague, Caroline, shared with you the purpose and benefits of saying “no” and it’s absolute importance when setting healthy boundaries in her blog post, "When Saying No is Actually Saying Yes." She helped us recognize and acknowledge our feelings around setting effective boundaries and in the process sparked additional intrigue for me…how do we know what healthy boundaries are and how do we know how they’ve been crossed?
To help us build this emotional intelligence and self-awareness, it’s helpful to explore the moments that you are feeling that distress to discover what boundary violations are occurring. Understanding these six types of boundaries will help us establish healthier boundaries with others and cultivate a healthier sense of self overall.
What kinds of boundaries are there?
These boundaries include personal space and physical touch. Has anyone ever rummaged through your purse without asking or hugged you after just meeting them? Do either of these examples make you squirm? That reactivity is your body telling you a physical boundary, whether it’s your personal body space or your personal environment, has been violated. You’re likely to welcome a hug from a long-time friend over a stranger on the street, just as you are likely to be more comfortable allowing your daughter to grab your phone out of your purse than you might be with a passerby in the store. Healthy physical boundaries include an awareness of what’s appropriate in varying settings and relationships.
These boundaries refer to our feelings, including our expressiveness of them. These can be violated when we are criticized or invalidated. Has anyone ever said to you “there’s no reason to be upset” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing.” Even if they’re trying to console you, this can feel damaging and leave us feeling unheard and dismissed. You’re likely to be more vulnerable and confide in a friend who has been through multiple life transitions with you compared to a blind date that you’re meeting for the first time. Healthy emotional boundaries include personal limitations we set for sharing personal information, which includes when this information is shared and with whom.
These boundaries are slightly less obvious, yet likely happen more often than we think. Intellectual boundaries refer to our thoughts and ideas and are often violated when someone dismisses or belittles them. Have you ever had an idea you were excited about that was quickly shut down by someone you shared it with, leaving you feeling like you wanted to hide in a hole for weeks afterwards? Or maybe you’ve shared some insight on a political topic (who hasn’t these days) and been berated about it from an opposing party? It happens all the time. Healthy intellectual boundaries will include respectfulness and a willingness to understand not only one’s own ideas and values but others as well, even if they are opposing of our own.
These boundaries compile the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of sexuality. What does this mean? Essentially any unwanted sexual touch, ogling from others, sexual comments, or pressure to engage in sexual acts can qualify as a destruction of a sexual boundary. Curious about what the #MeToo movement represents? This is it folks – violated sexual boundaries. Healthy sexual boundaries will include consent, mutual agreement, respect and understanding of limits and desires that have been discussed between intimate or sexual partners.
These boundaries refer to personal possessions. Does someone you know always ask to borrow money but never pay you back? Or maybe you lent your friend an iPad and they returned it broken? When someone pressures you to give or lend them your possessions or steals, damages or destroys your possessions, the boundary has likely been violated. Healthy material boundaries include limitations on what you choose to share and with whom.
These boundaries reference how we use our time. These boundaries are a bit trickier to notice but are very apparent all the same. They are often violated when someone demands too much of another’s time. Do you find yourself always setting aside your own plans because a friend constantly wants to hang out instead? Or maybe your partner gives you grief for trying to take time for yourself or hang out with friends? Healthy time boundaries can be implemented by setting aside time for the various facets of our lives including work, hobbies and relationships in consideration of your values and priorities.
How to establish boundaries
These boundaries can seem tedious when we reflect on just how many variables cultivate our initial reactivity. But there’s a notable difference to negotiate. The dynamic of the environment or relationship for each is important for us to note in order to help us set clearer healthier boundaries overall. But how do we do this?
You know your body better than anyone else and if you are experiencing distress, it’s likely that a boundary is being crossed. Your boundaries are unique to you and they’re going to likely look different than others around you based on your comfort level with varying relationships, environments and culture.
Listen to what your body is telling you, be curious about the situation that’s evoking the overwhelm and as Caroline reminds us, “check-in if you’re emotionally exhausted or over-committed…slow down and re-asses.” Tune into your feelings, practice assertively addressing your limits, and take care of yourself along the way. This awareness will go a long way with helping you implement healthy boundaries for a happier and healthier sense of self.
To schedule an appointment with Alyssa Cornett, MA, LMFT-Associate, call 737-226-3803.