Boundaries - What are They?

A boundary is a limit or edge that defines you as separate from others, and defines your own uniqueness. Just like we build a fence around our house, boundaries are like invisible fences we build around ourselves. Boundaries give and deny permission to others to enter our emotional and physical space. When we lack boundaries, we can become overly dependent on others or have others become overly dependent on us. Lacking boundaries can also lead to depression, anxiety, anger, resentment, and even stress-induced illness.

Boundaries are the list of RULES, BELIEFS, & FEELINGS which

  • define how people relate to others;

  • keep a person separate or comfortably distanced from others, and;

  • give people a sense of themselves.

Physical boundaries separate who we are inside from everyone and everything else in the world. Sometimes we call this boundary our "personal bubble." We become aware of it when someone stands too close to us. This boundary changes depending on with whom we are interacting. For example, our best friend can probably stand pretty close to us without it feeling weird, but we often prefer for strangers to stay farther away.

An emotional boundary is the set of feelings and reactions that are uniquely ours. Our emotional boundaries depend on how we perceive the world, our life experiences, our values, goals, and concerns. It can hurt very deeply when someone violates our emotional boundaries by calling us names or making fun of us. When that happens, we can become uncomfortable with who we are, resulting in low self-esteem or diminished self-confidence.

Relational or role boundaries define what is appropriate interaction with others. They depend on who the other person is, and what our relationship is to that person. For example, it is perfectly fine for your friend to tell you about a date they went on, but it is not appropriate for your counselor to tell you about the date they went on. As a counselor, to talk to my clients about my dating experiences would be violating a boundary because my role is to teach my clients about navigating their emotions and building coping skills, not to make my clients listen to stories about my love life.

Sexual boundaries define what is safe and appropriate behavior from others. We have the right to choose with whom we will be sexually active, and the right to set limits on that activity.

A boundary violation is committed when someone intentionally or unintentionally crosses the emotional, physical, sexual, or relationship limits of another.


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