Setting Boundaries – Charlotte Linham

July 15, 2020

Boundaries are something we’ve all become hyper-aware of over the last few months. But what exactly are they?  

Boundaries are the limits or rules that we set ourselves. They are some form of separation between what you will accept and what you wouldn’t. They can be in relationships, behaviour, states of mind or body and attitudes. Generally speaking, there are five types of boundaries: 

  • Physical – relates to personal space and physical contact 
  • Intellectual – relates to thoughts and ideas 
  • Emotional – relates to feelings 
  • Material – relates to money and possessions 
  • Time – relates to amounts of time 

We can have a few types of boundaries. On one end of the scale are rigid boundaries; these keep us protected by shutting ourselves off. On the other are porous boundaries; these are having no real limits and getting too involved with things. Healthy boundaries are somewhere in the middle; being able to say ‘no’ if you need to, but not being afraid to open up either – knowing what and how much to say or do and when. You might have all of one type, or a mixture.  

Our boundaries can change over time – what we accept when we’re 14 might be different to 34, which might be different again to 64. They are often shaped by our experiences, and the circumstances we’re in; as our values and lives change, so do our boundariesFor example, what’s appropriate with your friends might not be in a work scenario.  

Ultimately, the goal is to have healthy boundaries that protect ourselves, facilitate our emotional and relational development and to be able to voice what we need. If our boundaries are continuously breached, we can end up feeling pretty rubbish about ourselves; if we continuously breach other people’s boundaries, we will likely end up with very few positive relationships. The easiest thing to do to keep this from happening is ask the questions. Is this okay? Do you need some time or space alone? What do you need? What can I do? Would you mind if…? I need …, could you do …?  

It can be difficult to raise these questions – you might feel silly for asking too much. Remember some of the key rules about communication – actually listen to the other person, don’t just plan your reply. Use ‘I’ statements – you can’t speak for the motivations or feelings of another person, but you can speak about how you feel about something. Be assertive, not aggressive. There’s no need to raise your voice or be rude to get your point across – try to remain calm, and if you’re worried about saying something you’ll regret, walk away. Respect the other person, but don’t forget to respect yourself too – give the same weight to both opinions and come up with a compromise.  

There is a belief in psychology that suggests humans are always motivated by self-interest (called psychological egotism). If it’s relevant or good for you, you’ll probably do it. However, there is an opposing belief; that humans can do nice things for others purely to benefit others (psychological altruism). Cultivating good interpersonal relationships can be both self-serving and altruistic. It makes us feel good and provides us with benefits we may not otherwise get – but it also does that for the other person. By setting up boundaries, and asking the right questions, we can help ourselves and other people.

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