Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! You’ve probably heard this term within and outside of the therapy world quite a few times. While this is often a concept that we toss around repeatedly, we may not have a clear picture about what boundaries are and, importantly, how to set them and maintain them within our relationships. Keep reading to find out more about boundaries and steps to implementing them to help protect and preserve your own mental health and well-being.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are limits or rules that we decide upon and set within our personal relationships. Did you know that there are multiple types of boundaries? We often consider emotional boundaries, but boundaries can also relate to our physical surroundings (personal touch and personal space), intellectual domain (thoughts/beliefs/values), material goods, and time. We may be rigid in implementing boundaries, which means that we are closed off, unlikely to ask others for help, and detached. On the other end of the spectrum, we might have porous boundaries, meaning that we overshare, have difficulty saying no, become easily embroiled in others’ problems, and tolerate disrespect from others due to fear of rejection.

Ideally, we should aim to have healthy boundaries in all areas listed above; healthy boundaries lie in the middle between rigid and porous boundaries. Hallmarks of healthy boundaries are: valuing our own opinions and beliefs and not compromising these to please others, ability to stand up for ourselves, saying no when it’s appropriate and also accepting hearing no from others, and sharing our personal information respectfully.

Why are Boundaries Important?

If we have poor boundaries, we could feel burnt out, taken advantage of, unnecessarily disconnected from others, and generally dissatisfied with the quality of our relationships. Setting boundaries is a way that we implement self-care and show ourselves respect as we honor our own needs. Implementing healthy boundaries allow us to protect our energy, well-being, space, and promotes personal power and self-confidence.

Boundary Setting How-To’s and Pitfalls

Often, we are able to brainstorm our boundary and communicate it to the other person, but we stop there. Boundary setting needs to go beyond this and pair a consequence/action with the boundary in order for us to ensure that it is maintained. Beyond that, we have to be ready and willing to back our boundary up by following through with that consequence every single time. If we do not, we are inviting others to ignore our needs and are sending the message that this is not important to us.

Another common boundary pitfall is spending too long explaining, debating, or defending our boundaries or the emotions that arise that lead us to consider boundary setting. When you set boundaries, there’s actually no need to do this! Aim to be concise and clear in your communication of the boundary at hand.

Here are some helpful examples of boundaries and their consequences to get you thinking:

  • “I’m not going to tolerate you yelling at me. If you continue to do so, I will leave the room.”
  • “I won’t be lending you money anymore. It’s important to me that you take responsibility for yourself and your finances. While I want to support you, if you ask me again, I will not be responding to your request.”
  • “It’s not ok with me when you ask me about my weight, and I’m going to ask that we don’t discuss this in the future. If you bring it up again, I’m going to change the subject.”
  • “If you cancel our plans again, I’m going to call you out on this and let you know how I’m feeling in the moment, and I hope that we’ll be able to discuss this.”

Where are areas in your own life that you might benefit from some additional firm, clear boundaries? As you work to set (and maintain) boundaries in your life, make sure to leverage your support system to help you stay strong.