Updated: Jun 28
Do you have a hard time saying “no” when people ask you to do something? Or, did you grow up in a culture where boundaries were not a thing, or even frowned upon?
I used to struggle a lot with setting boundaries. I was a chronic people pleaser and would do and say whatever I had to to avoid conflict. It took me years of heartache and disappointments to start being honest with myself and learn to start creating healthier boundaries for myself.
Setting boundaries can be a really difficult thing to do, especially if you grew up in an environment where boundaries were either not discussed or allowed. But after learning about boundaries, I was able to practice setting them in my own life. And if I can do it, I know you can too!
What are boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.
Types of boundaries
Rigid boundaries. This is the person who appears extremely guarded at all times. They may seem to always have a wall up and avoid getting too close to people. They are less likely to reach out for help when they need it, even if they know they could use it. People with rigid boundaries tend to have few, if any, close relationships. If they are in a romantic relationship, they may seem emotionally detached and distant. A person with this type of boundary is very protective over private and personal information and has many reasons to be this way. For example, they may have a history of being betrayed or rejected and fear having to let their guard down and experience pain again. They may tend to have a more aggressive or passive-aggressive communication style to keep others at bay.
Porous Boundaries. Quite the opposite of rigid, a person with porous boundaries has less of a filter when it comes to sharing personal information. They tend to overshare personal information and have a real difficult time saying "no" to others’ requests. Open pour boundary types may also get over involved with others' problems, thinking they are just trying to help. This person cares a lot about others’ opinions and sadly may depend on others to make them feel worthy, even to the point of accepting abuse or disrespect. Porous boundary types fear rejection if they do not comply with others and are habitually passive in their communication styles. This is also the only boundary type that expects others to also be porous and take it as a personal defect or rejection when others say no or aren’t as open as them.
Healthy Boundaries. A person with healthy boundaries understands their personal wants and needs, and can communicate them with ease. Because they value their own opinion, they are the most confident and content of all the boundary types. A person with healthy boundaries communicates in a manner that is clear, firm, and fair. They are less likely to compromise their values for others, however make space to listen and consider others’ recommendations. Moreover, a person with healthy boundaries shares personal information appropriately, with people they trust (they will not over or under share). Healthy boundary types are also accepting when others say "no" to them, and understands when people have boundaries, because they themselves do.
If you are looking at these three boundary types and are thinking, “I kinda have all 3!”, you’re not alone. In fact, most people have a mix of different boundary types. For example, someone could have healthy boundaries at work, porous boundaries in romantic relationships, and a mix of all three types with their family.
Knowing how to set a boundary also depends on context and culture. What's appropriate to say when you're out with friends might not be appropriate when you're at work. Some cultures have very different expectations when it comes to boundaries. For example, in some cultures it's considered inappropriate to have even a healthy boundary, and may even have a belief that if a person has boundaries, they aren’t as loving.
Other types of boundaries
Physical boundaries include personal space and physical touch. Physical boundaries
may be violated it someone touches you when you don't want them to, or when they
invade your personal space, such as going through your car or bedroom. Healthy physical boundaries means to have consent for going into another’s physical space. This, of course, may vary by culture, so if you don’t know, just ask!
Intellectual boundaries refer to thoughts and ideas. Healthy intellectual boundaries
include respect for others' ideas, and an awareness of appropriate discussion (should
we talk about the weather, or politics?). Intellectual boundaries are violated when
someone dismisses or belittles another person's thoughts or ideas.
Emotional boundaries refer to a person's feelings. Emotional boundaries are violated when someone criticizes, belittles, or invalidates another person's feelings (i.e., “why are you so sensitive?!”, or “you don’t really feel that”). Healthy emotional boundaries validate others’ emotions and consider limitations on when to share, and when not to share, personal information.
Sexual boundaries refer to the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of sexuality.
Healthy sexual boundaries involve mutual understanding and respect of limitations and
desires between sexual partners. Sexual boundaries can be violated with unwanted
sexual touch, pressure to engage in sexual acts, leering, or sexual comments, including making inappropriate jokes that make someone uncomfortable.
Material boundaries refer to money and possessions. Healthy material boundaries
involve setting limits on what you will share, and with whom. Material boundaries are violated when someone steals or damages another person's possessions, or when they pressure them to give or lend them their possessions.
Time boundaries refer to how a person uses their time. To have healthy time
boundaries, a person must set aside enough time for each facet of their life such as
work, relationships, and hobbies. Time boundaries are violated when another person
demands too much of another's time. Practicing “asteya,” or non-stealing, includes being mindful of how one may be taking what’s not theirs, which includes time and attention.
Know your boundaries!
Boundaries should be based on your values, or the things that are important to you. For example, if you value spending time with family, you will need to set firm boundaries about working late. Your boundaries are yours, and yours alone. Many of your boundaries might align with those who are close to you, but others will be unique. Know your boundaries before entering a situation. This will make it less likely you’ll do something you’re not comfortable with.
What to Say
Expect your boundaries to be challenged. Remember that “no” is a full sentence. When you do not feel comfortable agreeing to a situation, you will need to express yourself clearly, without ambiguity, so there is no doubt about what you want.
“I’m not comfortable with this.”
“I’d love to do that another time, but I can’t do that for you at this time.”
“This is not ok/acceptable.”
“My goals are important to me and I need to rest tonight.”
“I’ve decided not to.”
“I don’t want to do that”
“Please don’t do that.”
“This doesn’t work for me.”
What to Do
Use Confident Body Language. Face the other person, make eye contact, and use a clear and audible tone of voice (not too quiet, and not too loud). Stand tall and confident and know that you have the right to say no without guilt. There is nothing wrong with requesting a boundary, and unless you believe that, your posture might reflect incongruently with your words. Believe that holding healthy boundaries is a great thing!
Plan Ahead. Think about what you want to say and how you will say it before entering a difficult conversation. Make this as easy for yourself as possible by practicing your statement as this could allow you to feel more confident about your position. I always advise my clients to be brief, and list main points. Rehearsing with a friend, therapist, pets, or inanimate objects can further increase confidence in holding a boundary.
Be Respectful. Setting a boundary does not have to turn into an argument. Avoid raising your voice, using put-downs, or giving the silent treatment. It’s good to be firm, but your message will be better received if you present it with respectful language and a calm delivery. Others are more likely to receive your message if they do not feel threatened or stressed by the request.
Compromise. It’s ok to negotiate. When appropriate, listen and consider the needs of the other person. You never have to compromise, but give-and-take is part of any healthy relationship. Making space to hear one another is important for any relationship, but it has to feel safe. Check in with how you feel, physically and emotionally, before agreeing to a compromise. If you are unsure, request for time before responding.
Like Attracts Like. We tend to mirror the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of those we spend the most time with. When we spend time with people with porous boundaries, they may expect you to also have this type of boundary. People with healthy boundaries tend to surround themselves with others who share this type of boundary.
When Boundaries Aren’t Enough
Boundaries are culturally constructed norms. There may be expectations placed on individuals for a number of reasons including their age, gender, ability, ethnicity, position in family (i.e., eldest sibling), geographical location, class, and more. Modeling a healthy boundary includes taking responsibility for shifting attitudes in societal expectations. For example, women who hold a boundary are more likely to be labeled as aggressive compared to men who are labeled as decisive for having the same boundary. Men who hold negative beliefs about women are also more likely to engage in abusive and exploitative behaviors, making it difficult for victims to hold a boundary.
If you are currently in a relationship where your partner is:
Violating your physical safety
Exerting excessive control of your time, decisions, and values
Constantly threatening you
Controlling and preventing you from doing reasonable things you'd like to do
Forcing you to do things you don't want to
This behavior is not healthy and may cross the line into abuse.
If you or someone you care about is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788.
Helping Survivors: Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Resources and support - helpingsurvivors.org/domestic-violence-and-sexual-abuse/
Remember, boundaries are less about saying “no” to others and more about saying “yes” to yourself. Setting a healthy boundary is an opportunity to practice self love and model healthy behavior for others. You matter. Your thoughts and opinions matter. Being authentic requires you to be honest about how you think and feel. Challenging systemic attitudes that inhibit personal growth and freedom is something we can all do better at, and includes practice and education both as individual and as a collective.
What type of boundary do you tend to fall into? Where do you struggle? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Send me a message and let’s talk!