Boundaries 101

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Boundaries. Maybe you’ve heard the term recently; it’s somewhat of a “buzz” word on social media right now. 

  • “I need to set better boundaries.” 
  • “So-and-so doesn’t have any personal boundaries.” 
  • “Maybe if I set a boundary, he’ll stop drinking.” 
  • And then the classic: 

If you haven’t heard of relational boundaries like the examples I just listed, perhaps you are familiar with property boundaries or professional vs. personal boundaries in the workplace. Regardless of the context of the word, the meaning is very similar across uses: a boundary typically refers to the point where something ends and something else begins. In the relational sense, a boundary is where I end and you begin. 

Sometimes, if boundaries get crossed by some-thing or some-one, there is conflict. Often, the conflict isn’t seen, but greatly felt. Blurry boundaries can cause family discord, job losses, and one-sided friendships. Clear boundaries result in open and transparent communication, equal give-and-take, and emotional safety. 

If we take the scenario portrayed in the cartoon above, it seems a little extreme, huh? Do’s and don’ts on one side of the pendulum…a brick wall on the other side. Is there a middle? Relational boundaries almost always reside in the middle belly of the pendulum; life doesn’t have to be lived either-or, rather, yes-and. What might work better for the family portrayed in the cartoon is a sturdy fence, that can be open and shut, rather than a brick wall that is either fully up or completely crumbled on the ground. Let’s explore.

Types of Boundaries

  1. Physical boundaries: what you will and will not allow others to do to you physically AND what you will and will not do to others. Physical boundaries generally include touch and personal space or proximity of closeness.
  2. Emotional boundaries: the freedom you have to express your emotions and feelings in response to people, places, or events. Emotional boundaries allow us to own our response and reaction to circumstances. When we have healthy emotional boundaries, we are not deterred by others telling us to feel or not to feel. In turn, we allow others to own and express their emotions. 
  3. Intellectual boundaries: the ability to determine what I believe and to define that belief. “My thinking is my thinking, regardless of your opinion of my thinking.” If a child is told “you are stupid” as a child, that is an example of an invasion of his or her intellectual boundaries. We, too, have a responsibility to allow others to own what they know. 
  4. Spiritual boundaries: you have the right to believe or not believe in spiritual practices, disciplines, religion, faith, and/or a Higher Power. Protecting your beliefs around spirituality, or lack thereof, contributes to a healthy sense of self. Using stigmatized spirituality or religion to manipulate emotions is an example of unhealthy spiritual boundaries. 
  5. Sexual boundaries: what you allow and do not allow to be talked about or acted upon in regard to sexuality. How you exercise your sexuality, whether in thought, word, or deed, and allow others to behave toward you in a sexual manner, define your sexual boundaries.   
  6. Social boundaries: social boundaries address your comfort level in social groups of people, systems, and organizations. If you consider yourself to be more introverted and frequently feel pressured to participate in social situations as an extrovert, your social boundaries have been violated. If a friend is a night-owl and you are an early-riser, respecting each other’s social boundaries during these times will enhance your relationship. 

What do we do with all this information? We’ll get to that in the next couple posts. For now, I encourage you to look around and start to identify different boundaries you may have, even those shadowed from your awareness! In order to determine potential boundary violations and boundary action steps, awareness is key. 

If you’ve become aware and are now currently struggling with knowing where your own boundary lines are located, or feel trapped within someone else’s boundary lines, we would love to help you take the next step toward relational freedom. Feel free to reach out. 

Written by Lauren Eisleben