What are boundaries?

In recent years, boundaries have become a common topic of discussion. Many people picture someone leaving during an argument or telling their boss “no” after another demand on their time, but boundaries do not have to be reactionary or involve conflict. Despite the use of the term in everyday language, it can be hard to understand from such examples what boundaries, especially healthy ones, actually are.

Boundaries are what separate us and our responsibilities from other people. They are like invisible lines drawn in the sand or the proverbial picket fence that separates our yard from our neighbors. Yes, it is easiest to tell where a boundary is after it has been crossed, but there are ways to tell where the line is beforehand.

Signs a boundary is needed:

  • Feeling resentful of someone or a specific part of your life
  • Not being able to meet other peoples’ expectations
  • Struggling to take care of yourself or your loved ones
  • Feeling like you do not have enough resources for daily living, such as time or energy
  • Having negative emotional or physical responses

The above examples are in no way a complete list but only a few ways to tell that something is taking more of you than you have to give, and putting up that proverbial fence is how we manage it. There are also many areas of our life that may need boundaries. For example:

Conflict with others is the most obvious example of when boundaries should be set. Some examples would be not holding conversations with someone who is yelling at you or taking time to cool off before restarting the discussion. Our relationships with others can also be the most challenging life area in which to set boundaries, so look for our previous post on how to communicate boundaries with others.

While time may be money, it is the most precious resource we have because no one can make more of it. If you find yourself running out of time to meet your commitments or struggling to find time for yourself, it’s time to review your boundaries. What is taking up your time, and are those activities proportionate to their importance in your life? Are there any commitments that can be cut back on or put aside for now? It is not uncommon for everything we are doing to feel equally important, but if you find yourself not getting enough sleep or making excuses for your personal goals being pushed aside, examine your daily, weekly, and monthly commitments to sort out any fluff.

Another obvious area of life when it comes to boundaries being violated is our physical space. If you’ve ever been standing in a line and felt the person behind you was uncomfortably close, that is an example of a physical boundary being crossed. It is important to note these norms can vary across cultures and individuals. Notice what feels uncomfortable for you and honor that. Some parents teach their children to only hug others when they feel like it. This teaches them their physical boundaries from a young age. 

The physical items in our lives require boundaries too. An acquaintance walking into your bedroom and falling asleep in your bed would feel wrong to many people in most cases. These boundaries are so automatic that we rarely think about them. And while there are many laws in place to protect personal property, they exist because people violate these boundaries. Another example is someone going through your wallet and stealing money. Aside from property crimes, taking time to reflect on your material boundaries can be helpful. Reflect on what you are willing or not willing to share, under which circumstances, and why. The answers to these questions are highly personal.


Perhaps the hardest type of boundary to set is an emotional one. Having empathy for others is important for making genuine connections, but it does not mean that their feelings have to impact yours. You may have heard, “Don’t let others throw their trash in your yard” or “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” You can be compassionate without sacrificing your own well-being. When emotional boundaries are crossed, we may find ourselves overwhelmed with concerns for someone else or noticing that someone else’s emotions have left a longer-than-temporary impact on our own. Setting these boundaries can be external–such as closing our office door when we hear co-workers gossiping–or internal, such as using the drive home to blast music and reset our mood before walking through the front door.

The above are only a few examples of what boundaries are and how they impact our lives. If setting boundaries is difficult for you or you don’t even know where to start, consider reaching out to our intake team today.

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