Boundaries 101: Do you know your boundaries?

Often in therapy, one's personal boundaries are discussed and explored. This is due to the fact that our boundaries impact our emotions, our relationships and attachments, and our self-respect. Having unhealthy boundaries can create problems in living (see below), which is why many individuals initially seek therapy.

If you feel completely in the dark when it comes to boundaries and knowing your own personal boundaries, you're not alone. To help shed some light, here's a quick review, or what I like to call...

Boundaries 101

What are boundaries?

  • Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates as a way to identify what are practical, safe, and allowable ways to interact with others.
  • Boundaries include physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual boundaries. 
  • Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining preferences.
  • Boundaries are shaped by beliefs, values, opinions, attitudes, intuitions, emotions, past experiences, environment, and social learning; therefore, they can change accordingly. 
  • Boundaries guide our response when another person acts against them. 
  • Personal boundaries operate in two directions, affecting both the incoming and outgoing interactions between people.
  • It can be helpful to think of boundaries as a membrane - a selective barrier that can control what is given and received.

What are the different types of boundaries?

"Unhealthy Boundaries" are boundaries that one may find problematic, as they can create problems in living, such as: 

  • Confusion about yourself: Not always knowing what you feel or why you get upset, numbing out, not knowing your values
  • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking it through
  • Emotional instability: Fast, intense mood changes with little control; or steady negative emotional states
  • Interpersonal problems: Patterns of difficulty keeping relationships steady, getting what you want, or keeping your self-respect; frantic efforts to avoid abandonment

There are three main types of unhealthy boundaries:

1) Limited or non-existent boundaries: This boundary type lacks a membrane altogether - one has no control over what is given or received. With this boundary type, one may over-identify with others, attach to others quickly, be manipulated or taken advantage of easily, over share emotions or personal information, act impulsively, or have difficulty telling others "no."

2) Loose or porous boundaries: This boundary type has a permeable membrane, yet one does not control what is given or received.  With this boundary type, one often feels unsure of themselves and may experience a pattern of insecure attachment. One may feel guilty after saying "no" despite the other's request being unreasonable, experience his or her expression of emotion as unjustified, or find his or herself thinking,  "I want to be close with others, but I find they don't want to be as close as I'd like."

3) Rigid or "like a wall" boundaries: This boundary type has an impermeable membrane; one has completely restricted what is let out and what is let in. With this boundary type, one has difficulty building healthy relationships, asking others for help, asking for something that is needed or wanted, or regulating their emotions effectively - as they may often "keep in" their emotions until they feel like exploding or experience prolonged negative emotional states.

The thing about unhealthy boundaries is that many people find they cannot consistently keep with one type due to the problems that the boundary type creates in their life. So, as a means to help correct for these problems, they find themselves swinging from one type to the next.

What do healthy boundaries look like?

A healthy boundary type is like having a selective permeable membrane - you choose what is given and received. You are able to build healthy relationships, communicate your wants and needs effectively, assert yourself by telling others "no," and make value-based decisions. As a result, you experience increased happiness in your relationships and life, feel positive about yourself, and are able to obtain your goals or wants/needs. 

Reflection Questions:

Have you given much thought into what your boundaries are?

Did you primarily identify with a boundary type?

Can you think of times you've experienced each type of boundary?

Are there areas of your personal boundaries that need improvement? Be specific.

If so, why are these improvements important to you?

How can you move toward a healthier boundary type?


As always, feel free to leave a comment or question below.

Take Care,