Boundaries: Teaching People How to Treat You
If you weren’t able to attend my recent Therapy Thoughts Workshop on Boundaries, I thought I would give a recap of what boundaries are, why boundaries are important, and how to set healthy boundaries in your life. Boundaries are such an important part of self-care and they are very instrumental in teaching people how to treat you. They help us to create healthy relationships, they increase our self-esteem, and they have been shown to decrease feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
There are six basic types of boundaries I teach my clients about who come to me for therapy and coaching, and in this blog, I’m going to give you a brief overview of each type and some examples of how they show up in life.
When thinking of setting boundaries in your life, I often use a fence analogy to explain how boundaries function. As I discuss the different types of boundaries, I want you to imagine I’m asking you to build an emotional fence around yourself. First, I want you to imagine building a chain link fence. Although it may offer a bit of a barrier, it really doesn’t offer a lot of privacy. It is pretty porous and can be easy for things to enter or exit your environment. Next, I want you to imagine building a 10 foot concrete wall completely surrounding your emotional self. Yes, it does offer a lot of privacy, but it also cuts you off from connecting to the world around you. It doesn’t make it very easy for things to enter or exit your world. Lastly, I want you to imagine building an 8 foot wooden privacy fence with a gate that locks. It offers a good deal of privacy from the world around you, and because there is a locked gate, it allows you to determine what does and does not get to enter your life. Try to keep these in mind as I discuss the different types of boundaries, and think of what the 8 foot privacy fence looks like for you in each of the categories.
Physical boundaries refer to the boundaries we set that have to do with our physical space and physical touch. Think of your physical boundaries as your personal space bubble. If anyone or anything enters your personal space, it is up to you to determine if you are ok with them being in your space. If you are comfortable with them being there, then all is good. However, if you feel that you don’t want them in your space, it is up to you to set a boundary that makes you more comfortable. This could be as simple as asking them to take a step back if during an interaction if they get too close to you. It could also be choosing not to hug someone but instead opting to shake their hand.
Emotional boundaries refers to your feelings and the ways you express them. Do you give too much detail or share too much information about yourself? You don’t owe anyone all the details of your life, so don’t feel like you have to share more than you are comfortable sharing. When you are interacting with another person, do you ever feel like they are sharing too much information about themselves. I think we have all experienced an example of someone oversharing, and we get uneasy or even a bit embarrassed for them. There is a need to maintain this boundary as a way to keep yourself safe from “oversharing” and feeling exposed.
Intellectual boundaries refer to your thoughts and ideas and how they are communicated and supported. Think of a time you’ve had an idea of something you’d like to do or something you’d like to achieve. You share this information with someone, and it’s belittled or dismissed. Setting intellectual boundaries means learning to respect and understand your own ideas and values while being able to advocate for yourself. Remember that not everyone will agree with us, but the mutual ability to “agree to disagree” is a respectful way to achieve a balance with this boundary.
Sexual boundaries are basically a combination of physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, and intellectual boundaries all wrapped up in one, but sexual boundaries are a distinct category that require attention. Setting a sexual boundary includes determining mutual consent, agreement and respect about whatever sexual activity is and is not going to happen. These boundaries could be communicated by simply saying, “no” to sexual activity you do not want to engage in or it could be where you set limits or guidelines of what sexual contact is ok with you. Feeling pressured to act in a sexual way or being forced into something is a violation of this boundary. This boundary can also include any unwanted touching or groping that feels sexual in nature.
Material boundaries refer to your money and possessions and how you choose to use and share them. This boundary could be violated when you let a friend borrow something of yours and it’s either not returned or it is returned but it’s damaged. When thinking of this boundary, think of how entitled someone feels when it come to your stuff. You should never feel obligated to give of yourself in a material way, but if you do choose to give to someone in your life, take note of how they respect the agreement. If they borrow money, do they pay you back quickly or do you have to continually ask for the money back? If they damage your items, do they offer to repair or replace them?
Time boundaries refer to how you use and spend your time. It is important to set time boundaries for your life related to your work, your hobbies and your relationships. You get to choose how you spend your time, and it is ok for you to make decisions about prioritizing what is important to you in this arena. Maybe you have had a long week and you don’t want to spend your Friday night at the bar with your friends. It is perfectly ok for you to decide not to go hang out if a bubble bath at home is how you want to spend your evening.
Boundaries allow us to safely interact with the people in our lives. They allow us to love other people and ourselves well. It is always OK to say, “no” without feeling guilty. You are the gatekeeper of your life, but this does not mean that everyone in your life will respond positively to you setting boundaries. If people are used to getting their way with you, they may act a bit hostile towards you when you start to push back as a way to protect yourself. Just remember that when someone reacts negatively to you for setting a boundary, it does not mean you should not have set the boundary, but it does give you some insight into how they respect you.
I do hope this blog has given you a good overview of boundaries and how to begin setting them in your life. If you are interested in setting up an appointment for therapy or life coaching, or if you would like more information about ways to create and set healthy boundaries in your life and relationships, you can call my office directly at 314-485-9189 or feel free to send me a message. My direct email address is email@example.com and you can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more life and relationship tips!
If you are local to the St. Louis area and interested in attending my next Therapy Thoughts Workshop, I will be discussing the process of Self Acceptance and Overcoming Rejection. The next workshop will be at The Bike Stop Cafe in Chesterfield on June 19, 2019 from 7:30pm-8:30pm. It is $5 to get in, and this gets you $2 off any drink of your choice as well as entry into the attendance raffle drawings. I hope to see you there!