What Are Boundaries and How to Set Them

boundary setting

What is a Boundary?

A boundary sets the standard for how you want to be treated and communicates with others what’s ok and what’s not ok with you. Boundaries vary on a spectrum. We may have really rigid or quite flexible boundaries. And whilst these extremes may be suited for certain scenarios, generally, we like to sit in the middle and have healthy and adaptable boundaries. There is more than one type of boundary.


What are the Types of Boundary?

  • Physical – this refers to personal space, like, staying out of people’s rooms, and physical touch, like, being aware if someone wants to be hugged.
  • Intellectual – this refers to thoughts and ideas, like, respecting differences in opinions and interests, and an awareness of discussion. For example, discussing topics which are appropriate and mutual.
  • Emotion – this refers to feelings and sharing (or not sharing) personal information and knowing how to separate one’s own emotions from the experiences of others to not dump one’s emotional states onto others.
  • Sexual – this refers to the emotional, intellectual and physical aspects of sexuality and having a mutual understanding and respect for sexual limitations, opinions and desires.
  • Material –this refers to money and possessions and having limits of who you share these items with. It also involves not damaging or taking items without asking.
  • Time – this refers to how a person uses their time and been respectful of other’s commitments.


So Why are Boundaries Important?

Healthy boundaries can be the difference between healthy and happy relationships and toxic and distressing relationships. For more information on what makes a healthy and a not so healthy relationship please read our previous blog on “Red Flags” and “Green Flags” in relationships here. Having our own personal boundaries and understanding and respecting other’s boundaries is super important for maintaining a healthy autonomous identity and respecting relationships. What are other reasons boundaries are important?


Reasons Why Boundaries are Important?

  • They are a form of practicing self-care and self-respect
  • Boundaries help us to communicate our needs in a relationship
  • They ensure we make time and space for positive and equal interactions
  • When we have boundaries, it allow us to set limits in a relationship in a way that is healthy
  • They mean we share personal information gradually and create mutual and trusting close relations
  • Boundaries protect ours and others physical and emotional space
  • They help us to be assertive and express our personal power
  • Practising boundary-setting allows us to confidently and truthfully say “yes” or “no” and be okay when others saying “no” to you


Barriers to Having Boundaries

But sometimes we can struggle setting healthy boundaries because of certain barriers. Below are just a few examples of how people may neglect boundaries. So, what are these barriers.


What are Barriers to Setting and Maintaining Boundaries?

  • Fear of rejection: This looks like, “If I set this boundary, this person will get mad and be angry at me.”
  • Fear of confrontation: This looks like, “If I say I can’t make that commitment, it will cause a disagreement and it will be uncomfortable.”
  • A lack of awareness and education around them: This looks like, “Boundaries are only important for people who have dysfunctional relationships.”
  • Fear of abandonment: This looks like, “If I start standing up for myself, the relationship will end and this person will leave me.”
  • Issues with co-dependency: This looks like, “I just want to do everything with the person. I know boundaries are important but we are different.”


How do we Communicate Boundaries?

Being able to communicate our boundaries is critical for our mental health and wellbeing. However, it can be really challenging to assert boundaries. We may find ourselves not wanting to do something but feeling obligated to do so. Especially with people who are dominating or when we really want them to like us. Also, if we have never been encouraged to set boundaries it can feel awkward at first. But like the quote at the top of this page, if someone values us as a person and respects our individual identity they will not be bothered, offended or upset by our boundaries.

Below are examples of how we can respectfully communicate our boundaries with others. For more… Psychology Today published a great article about setting healthy boundaries in close relationships. Read it here! It is important to remember, the more we begin setting boundaries, the more confident we will feel doing so and we can start to believe, “Hey I am somebody too! And I don’t owe anyone anything.” We will also see our social circle and relationships change as those who were perhaps trying to take advantage of us step back.

To set boundaries, keep it simple, like the examples below. There is no need to feel like you need to over explain yourself. Further, keep the boundary on yourself, like, what you feel comfortable doing/ not doing. Don’t put it back on the other person about what they should be/ should not be doing. And remember communicating your boundaries is helping you to feel responsible, in control and proactive about your life. So what do boundary setting statements sound like?


Boundary Setting Statements

  • “Thank-you for inviting me, but I already have plans”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this topic with you.”
  • “I appreciate you asking for my help, but my schedule is already full this week”
  • “Please don’t go through my stuff, there are things which are private in there.”
  • “I appreciate the gesture, but in the future, I’d prefer…”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable with [X], but i am open to trying [Y].”
  • “I’m sorry I can’t meet you at that time. What time between [X] and [Y] works for you?”
  • “I can’t help you do that, but I can help you find someone who can.”

Boundary setting with kids and in a family can be a whole different “ball park”. For more information on this, please read beyond blue’s article here.


How Can a Psychologist Help?

Boundaries can be really challenging if we aren’t in a mentally strong place. That is why we are here! If you are struggling with boundaries seeing a psychologist can help to build your awareness around yourself and what boundaries you need and your confidence in setting them. Boundaries are a very important skill which can help you to be self-aware and have strong self-respect and self-compassion.

To consult with a CBT Professionals psychologist, please download our referral form here and take it with you to your GP appointment. We hope to be of assistance soon! Remember to reach out if you need further assistance.


Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.

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