“I set boundaries not to offend you but to respect myself.”
I have been spending a significant amount of time thinking about personal boundaries lately. I think because it is a topic that is often discussed in therapy sessions and because I have been thinking about the upcoming holiday season. I have found that the holiday season, specifically November and December, is challenging for many people. One reason for this is that many of us spend a significant amount of time with our families, who often push us closer and closer towards our limits. I have personally experienced this when spending time with extended family members.
Through my personal experiences, I have learned how important it is to set personal boundaries. Not just for my physical health but also my mental and emotional health. Over time, I have learned that a surprising number of people cannot define or identify specific types of boundaries. So, I figured I would provide some information about what boundaries are, different types of boundaries, and examples of those boundaries.
Boundaries are limits, rules or lines that we set for ourselves and for those we have relationships with. Many people I have interacted with over the years have expressed concern that they might upset others by setting boundaries. The issue with this belief is that it doesn’t take ourselves into account. It is important to consider ourselves because boundaries are not for others; they are for us. Boundaries are our way of telling others how we expect to be treated.
What types of boundaries are there? There are seven different types of boundaries that I am currently aware of.
- Physical boundaries: Physical boundaries refer to your physical space and your overall physical well-being. Healthy physical boundaries include what we are comfortable with, with each person. Examples of physical boundaries include handshakes, hugs, or kisses. They can also include feeling tired and needing to sit down or asking someone not to enter your personal space (e.g., your bedroom) without permission.
- Intellectual boundaries: Intellectual boundaries involve your thoughts and ideas. Healthy intellectual boundaries include knowing what is appropriate to discuss in certain situations. For example, knowing when it is appropriate to discuss ideas around various political beliefs. Intellectual boundaries can also look like asking someone not to bring up a particular topic around you because it may be a sensitive topic for you.
- Emotional boundaries: Emotional boundaries refer to your feelings and energy levels. Healthy emotional boundaries include asking others not to share your personal information with others or dismissing/criticizing you for feeling a certain way. An example of an emotional boundary might include letting someone know you don’t have the emotional energy to discuss a certain topic.
- Sexual Boundaries: Sexual boundaries refer to physical, intellectual, and emotional aspects around sex. Healthy sexual boundaries include consent and discussing what you are sexually interested in. An example of a sexual boundary is asking for consent, while a breach in a sexual boundary might include sexual touch without permission or pressuring you into having sex when you are not interested.
- Material boundaries: Material boundaries refer to your possessions. Healthy material boundaries include asking permission to use something that belongs to someone else. An example of a material boundary might consist of asking a friend or family member to borrow a piece of clothing/jewelry for a date or asking to use their car to run an errand.
- Financial boundaries: Financial boundaries refer to your money. A healthy financial boundary looks like asking what is financially reasonable for you to spend on something or someone. An example of this includes agreeing upon a budget for a gift exchange so that everyone involved can afford a gift.
- Time boundaries: Time boundaries include your availability. Healthy time boundaries include asking if you have time to discuss something or setting a time limit on how long you can stay at an event/social gathering. An example of a time boundary might look like asking someone if they have 5 or 10 minutes to discuss something that has been on your mind.
Setting these types of boundaries can be difficult for many due to feelings of guilt or fear. It is important to remember not to let guilt or fear drive you into making decisions when what is happening is crossing one of your boundaries. After setting a boundary with a friend or family member, they might be initially upset with you; however, I believe that they are likely to get over it in time. That isn’t to say it isn’t scary to set boundaries when you first start out. One possible way to reduce your fear or guilt around boundary setting is to know why you are setting that boundary. Once you understand why you are setting that boundary, practice, practice, practice. Practicing what you want to say will make it easier and less stressful because you will have that boundary memorized.
Once you are ready to share your boundary, share it with that person clearly and concisely so that they understand. An example of how to set a boundary is to use an ‘I Feel’ statement. “I feel (blank) when you did (blank). In the future, will you do (blank)?” Finally, if the person you are setting a boundary with isn’t listening or decides to push your boundaries, let them know the consequences. Consequences could include walking away, leaving, or hanging up on the phone.
If you still have questions about boundaries during this holiday season, therapy can be a great place to gain additional psychoeducation around them. Therapy can also be a wonderful place to practice setting boundaries with a professional who will provide feedback to ensure you are setting boundaries clearly and assertively. Feel free to contact us to get in touch with one of those therapists.