What are Boundaries?

Healthy boundaries are those lines in the sand drawn by individuals who have figured out at least part of what they need to keep them happy and sane. They are the conversations between self and others that garner mutual respect and take the desires and needs of both parties into consideration. 

Setting healthy boundaries is relevant because it shows self-respect, respect for others, and examines our needs, desires, and wishes. For example, a parent may speak to their child’s teacher about the amount of homework their child is doing each night at home. The parent is aware of the time and effort spent on the assignments, and can advocate for the child – and this is modeling good behavior for the child to learn from to advocate for themselves later in life – about good work/life balance. The teacher may suggest a tutor, change their grading scale, examine the homework efforts of other children at parent/teacher conferences, or speak to their administrator about policies. 

Boundaries can take many forms. Emotional, intellectual, material, physical, and time. Emotional boundaries include how much effort  one is willing to give another person. For example, if a coworker spends every lunch hour complaining about their life and ruins your mood, you might suggest that the topic be changed, or that you have lunch together less often. Intellectual boundaries include respect for the ideas and thoughts of others. For instance, you might tell your spouse that you would like them to hold their criticism on your new idea for a podcast until you have some of the details worked out. Material boundaries include respecting others’ property. For example, a parent may ask that their car be returned with a full tank of gas. Physical boundaries include the respect for personal space, like not standing too close to someone in line. This has many cultural implications as well. Lastly, time boundaries include respecting the time of another, like being punctual to meetings or not going over your scheduled time.

Setting healthy boundaries can be difficult. Working with a therapist can be a benefit in navigating the roles one has in their family, friendships, intimate relationships, and work relationships. Families are often the most essential and most difficult boundaries to set and enforce because of the power balance in these roles. Some people cut contact with family members because setting a more reasonable boundary, or a boundary that is respected or enforceable can be difficult or impossible. Some families have a high level of dysfunction, such as with substance use, and setting a firm boundary means enforcing tough love, which is often painful for both parties. Other times, family boundaries include things like who will call how often, expressing your needs and wants, and asking for more or less in-person contact or physical contact. Similarly, friendships and intimate relationships grow and change throughout time and boundaries need to be flexible enough to move with those changes. Friends may see each other less often when one of the friends enters into a serious relationship, but the needs of the friend should also be considered and an effort made to find balance in both roles. Work relationships need to be considered by degree of formality or casualness, amount shared in the workplace, amount of time spent on the friendship during work hours to be kept in balance with both person’s jobs, and if any splintering of the work groups or power dynamic, if in different positions, is a distraction or detriment to their jobs. 

There is much to consider about boundaries, roles, and the individual. This is precisely why working with a therapist on these issues can be impactful. Whether with a professional or on your own, you will want to consider: What do I need, want, and prefer in this situation and how can I do that with respect for myself and others? 

Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New York, and Virginia. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on Twitter & Facebook.

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