Boundaries: What they are, and why they're so important

Setting boundaries in life is extremely important. It defines how we treat others, how we allow ourselves to be treated, and the experiences we are, and are not, willing to go through. Boundaries are defined as the limits/rules that we set for ourselves, but often times folks have a different opinion of the word. Seeing their boundaries as good, when really they're brick walls - or believing that boundaries promote unkindness.

The reality is that healthy boundaries are the basis for all successful relationships. Without having set boundaries for yourself, and for your communication with others, relationships can slip into unchecked feelings of resentment, violation, and disappointment. This can lead to unwanted behaviors - completely cutting off ties from your relationships, or needing them so much you cannot function without them. This distance between the assumption of what boundaries are, and what they actually are, causes a lot of us to never see the benefits.


What are healthy boundaries?

Healthy boundaries come from within. It happens when you know yourself, what you want and deserve, and have the power to use your voice to speak about those things. Everyone has limits, and those limits are often times the same as your boundaries.

Normally, the people around you aren't trying to test your limits - but they don't know what those limits are in the first place. This can come from being unclear with others, or yourself, about what it is you want or need. There are many different types of boundaries to maintain, and it is important to address those boundaries - with yourself, and also with the relationships around you.


Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries revolve around respecting each others feelings and energies. When setting your emotional boundaries, consider the amount of energy you are willing to receive, as well as the amount you are willing to expend. This can be seen in knowing what to share, when to share it, and when not to - should the recipient have poor responses to emotional sharing. Boundaries go both ways, though! You must also be considerate of the person you are speaking to - and the energies or emotions they can take on.

Emotional Boundary Violations:

  • Asking inappropriate questions

  • Telling someone how they feel

  • Assuming how those around us feel

  • "Emotionally dumping" on someone without their consent

  • Asking for justification for people's feelings

  • Criticizing or dismissing feelings all-together


Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries include physical touch, personal space, and the body's physical needs like food, water, and rest. Paying close attention to your physical boundaries is important - when your body feels right, it helps your brain feel right, too! It is always okay to let people know that you don't want to be touched, or that you need to rest/snack! You must also accept this information from others around you.

Physical Boundary Violations:

  • Unwanted touching

  • Having physical needs denied (have to wait to drink something, keep going when you're tired)

  • Unwanted violation of personal space (this doesn't have to be physical! It can be someone coming into your room, snooping through your car, etc.)


Intellectual Boundaries

Intellectual boundaries revolve around your thoughts, curiosities, and ideas. Having healthy intellectual boundaries means that you respect other people's ideas and thoughts, and have a willingness to talk and understand those thoughts when they differ from your own. It also means that you have an understanding of timing - and when not to talk about something.


This is not to say that you should accept all opinions and thoughts. It is important to understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy conversation. Sharing inherently damaging opinions - i.e., homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, etc. - gives you every right to draw that line in the sand and build a wall behind it. You can set your boundaries in your own way, and that can look like anything from letting that person know you won't tolerate that sort of talk, to cutting them out of your life completely. There is absolutely no requirement for "intellectual discourse" with someone who is violating you or others.


Time Boundaries

"Time is money" is more accurate than ever these days - and not only in the monetary value. Time is valuable, and it's important to utilize it correctly. Time boundaries are important at work, at home, and socially - it means that you understand your priorities and allocating time correctly to be able to get everything done on your list - without overcommitting yourself. Understanding your priorities leads to a better capability of setting personal time boundaries in your life.

Time Boundary Violations:

  • Your employer asking you to work OT without pay

  • Trapping people in conversation

  • Not respecting event end times

  • Being late or cancelling because you overscheduled yourself

  • Contacting people during times they've let you know they are unavailable


Material Boundaries

Material boundaries include all of your property type items - home, clothing, furniture, car, jewelry, money, etc. Knowing your relationship with your material items helps you understand what you are comfortable sharing, and who you are comfortable sharing it with. It is important to consider how those material items will be treated by the person you are setting boundaries with, even when that person is yourself. This helps keep resentment from building up over time from lack of communication if someone uses your property a little rougher than you'd like.

Material Boundaries Violations:

  • Property destroyed/damaged from frequent misuse

  • Things are lost

  • Use of materials (money and possessions) to manipulate/control relationships


Sexual Boundaries

Healthy sexual boundaries are extremely important these days. They include consent, respect, agreement, understanding of personal preferences (per partner), and privacy. This is everything from being open and honest about your sexual preferences, to respecting conversation about your sex life with your friends (or lack there of, if your boundaries would rather not share that with everyone).

Sexual Boundaries Violations:

  • Sulking/Guilting someone for not wanting to have sex

  • Not asking consent

  • Pressuring others

  • Lying about contraceptives/sexual history

  • Criticizing others' preferences

  • Unwanted sexual contact/comments


Considering the multiple categories of boundaries, it's important to make sure that you understand your limits and respect the limits of those around you. Setting healthy boundaries in your life helps you respect others, and provides a strong foundation for lasting relationships throughout your life. The more that we actively set boundaries, the more we will be able to clearly recognize and respect them around us. This helps us show up for people, but also helps them want to show up for us.