What are Healthy Boundaries and How to Practice Them

Personal boundaries are the limits and rules that we set for ourselves within our relationships. These rules and limits support our ability to function effectively within these relationships and in our everyday lives.

We often talk about unhealthy boundaries and set goals for developing healthy ones. Knowing what the characteristics of unhealthy boundaries are can be helpful to our ability to achieve these goals. There are two types of unhealthy boundaries: rigid boundaries and porous boundaries.

A person who always keeps others at a distance (emotionally, physically) is likely to have rigid boundaries. Someone who tends to get too involved with others likely has porous boundaries.

Traits of Rigid, Porous and Healthy Boundaries

Rigid BoundariesPorous BoundariesHealthy Boundaries
Avoids intimacy in close relationships, Unlikely to ask for help, Has few close relationships, Is very protective of personal information, May seemed detached (even with romantic partners), Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejectionOvershares personal information, Has difficulty saying “no” to requests from others, Is over-involved with other people’s problems, Dependent on the opinions of others, Accepting of abuse or disrespect, Fears rejection if they do not comply with othersValues their own opinions, Doesn’t compromise their values for others, Shares personal information in an appropriate way (no oversharing or under sharing), Knows their personal wants and needs AND can communicate them, Accepting when others say “no” to them

Engaging in healthy boundary practices often requires identifying needs as related to different aspects of our life and functioning. While verbalizing our boundaries is not necessary to enforce them, knowing how to communicate our expectations as influenced by our boundaries is often necessary.

Types of Boundaries, Violations and Assertive Communication

BoundaryWhat it looks likeViolation
Physical BoundariesRules for managing our personal space and physical touch

Healthy physical boundaries include an awareness of what is and is not appropriate (setting, relationship)
Being touched when you don’t want to be, invasion of personal space (ex. going through your stuff)

“I feel uncomfortable when you go through my things because it seems like to don’t trust me. Can you ask me for what you’re looking for instead of rummaging through my room?”
Intellectual BoundariesRules for managing our thoughts and ideas

Healthy intellectual boundaries include respect for others’ ideas, awareness of appropriate discussion
A person’s thoughts and/or ideas being dismissed

“I feel inadequate because you continue to dismiss my ideas. I would appreciate it if you provided feedback on what you are looking for instead.”
Emotional BoundariesRules for managing our feelings

Healthy emotional boundaries include limitations on when to share and not to share personal information (ex. Gradually sharing information with someone you just met vs revealing everything)
Someone criticizes, belittles or invalidates another person’s feelings

“I feel hurt when you tell me to get over it because it seems like my feelings don’t matter. I would feel like you understand if you allowed me to just feel how I’m feeling.”
Sexual BoundariesRules for managing the emotional, intellectual and physical aspects of sexuality

Mutual understanding and respect of limitations and desires between sexual partners
Unwanted sexual touch, pressure to engage in acts, sexual comments

“I feel unsafe when you touch me that way. I would appreciate it if you did not do it again.”
Material BoundariesRules for managing our money and possessions

Limits on what you will share and with whom (ex. Loaning car to a family member vs to a stranger)
Someone steals or damages another person’s possessions, being pressured to give or lend possessions

“I feel like frustrated when you don’t accept my ‘No’ the first time because it makes me believe that you don’t value the things that are important to me. Can you please not continue to ask me to borrow something after I’ve said no?”
Time BoundariesRules for managing how a person uses their time

Setting aside enough time for each facet of your life (work, relationships, hobbies)
Another person demands too much of another’s time (or we allow others to control how we use our time)

“I appreciate you wanting to spend time with me but I feel neglectful because I haven’t made time for my other responsibilities. Can we schedule the time we will spend together at the beginning of each week?”

Tips for setting boundaries with friends, family members, and colleagues:

1. Unpack the fear attached to the resistance you have towards establishing and reinforcing boundaries.

2. Know what it is that you need. Taking time to explore what about the situation is triggering you and identifying what you need to feel more comfortable is essential to effectively communicating to resolve conflict.

3. Distinguish realistic vs unrealistic expectations of the people in your life. Make considerations for differences in values, needs, experiences, and ability, and their potential impact on one’s ability to meet your expectation.

3. Use assertive communication to share what you need. Ex. I Statements: I feel __________ when you/because _______________. Can you/I would appreciate it if you _______________________.

4. Be clear in identifying your boundaries and expectations, and make specific requests of their behavior. Ex. “Can you be more considerate of my time?” -vs- “I would appreciate it if you didn’t call between 5pm and 8pm when I am studying.” *Reinforce the boundary by not answering calls received between this time and recommit to your boundary as often as necessary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: