Setting Healthy Boundaries for Self-Care and Stronger Relationships

January 2, 2022

Establishing healthy boundaries is a foundation to establishing respectful relationships with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Without set boundaries, relationships can lead to discomfort and even violation, which may set off a cycle of mistrust and isolation in your future.

Because we don’t actually see boundaries, they aren’t visible, so many of us are confused about what they are and how to set them. You may feel guilty or selfish setting your own limits on friends or loved ones, but remember that this is an important part of self-care and leads to stronger, healthier relationships.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are limits or space between yourself and another person that are set in order to create a safe and healthy relationship. These can be physical or emotional limits that ensure a person’s mental and emotional health are respected and maintained.

Some people have rigid boundaries, and others have loose boundaries. Both can be problematic if they are hindering your ability to maintain close and meaningful relationships.

Do you have trouble keeping friends or avoid close relationships? That may be the result of very strict or rigid boundaries.

On the other hand, if you have trouble saying “no,” are always putting the well-being of others before your own and get too involved in people’s personal lives, your sense of limits may be too loose.

Establishing clear boundaries for all of your relationships will enhance your connections by setting expectations. You can show people what you expect from them and let them know what they should expect from you.

Types

1. Physical

We’ve all likely experienced someone crossing a boundary with our personal, physical space. Crossing a physical boundary can be violating your limit on touch, which can be as simple as going in for a hug when you prefer a handshake or no touch at all.

This may be easier for you to indicate over less visible boundaries because it can be seen and felt physically.

Physical boundaries also include your personal space, like your home, bedroom or office. Crossing the line, for you, may be entering your workspace uninvited or unannounced, while others may have more of an open door policy.

Everyone’s physical boundary is different, which is why it’s important to communicate your individual needs to maintain a healthy relationship.

There are also boundaries with physical activity or exercise. These can be limits that you place on yourself, like resting when you’re tired, eating when you’re hungry and not eating when you aren’t.

It’s healthy to push yourself to achieve a goal but within the limits of your comfort zone so you maintain positive feelings about your actions and where you’re headed.

2. Sexual

Sexual boundaries exist between people who are married, people dating and even between friends with a platonic relationship. Asking for and confirming consent is a major sexual boundary that’s mandatory to create a safe, respectful space.

It’s also important to discuss what you’re comfortable with, what you like and what you don’t like when engaging in a physical, intimate way.

Pressuring someone into physical contact, making unwanted sexual comments and touching someone without consent are all actions that cross sexual boundaries. Sexual boundaries can even exist among married couples or couples who live together.

3. Emotional

Each relationship requires a certain amount of emotional energy, and that’s a limit that you have to set for yourself. Passing emotional limits may be sharing too much information (sometimes called “emotionally dumping”) and expecting a meaningful, emotional response, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, being unable to listen when being confided in emotionally by a friend or loved one.

Research shows that unlike a tangible wall that keeps something in or out, emotional boundaries are a necessary space between people and allow for a sense of individuality and separateness. Establishing this type of boundary contributes to your unique identity.

Crossing the emotional limit in a relationship may look like asking inappropriate or unwanted questions, criticizing people for the way they feel or dismissing their reactions, and telling people how they should (or should not) feel about a situation.

4. Intellectual

In our recent history, discussing global and political matters has become more prevalent, which is why setting intellectual boundaries is important. You’ve heard of the phrase “agree to disagree,” and that’s a simple version of intellectual limits that help maintain respectful relationships.

Respecting individual opinions and stopping conversations that are headed in the wrong direction are ways to set healthy intellectual boundaries. It is your choice whether or not you choose in engage in intellectual conversations that may push you and call your beliefs into question.

If you’re willing to have these types of sometimes uncomfortable conversations, there can be a point where you “draw a line in the sand,” like if statements become offensive.

5. Time and Energy

Do you ever feel like people are taking advantage of your time? Maybe they are asking for favors or tasks to be completed after working hours or assume that you’ll put in more time than you agreed to on a project.

These are examples of crossing time boundaries. This has become especially difficult as more and more people are working from home and the line between personal time and work time has blended.

Setting your own time boundaries ensures that you get the personal downtime you need for optimal health and helps you avoid burnout, which is becoming more common among American adults. In fact, a scientific review found that burnout syndrome is a serious public health problem.

If you’re constantly overcommitting and giving in to requests, you may have to set your own needs and goals aside, which can lead to resentment and disappointment. The same is true when you’re asking someone else to use her time, so be conscious of requests, and ask questions like, “Do you have the time for this today?”

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