According to Cambridge Dictionary the term boundary (a noun) is a real or imagined line that marks the edge or limit of something. Boundaries are the limit of what someone considers to be acceptable behavior.
There are several types of boundaries that we can identify and set with ourselves and others. Physical, emotional, resource and time, and material are a few.
In recovery and 12-step programs, a visual used for boundaries is a hula hoop. Unhealthy boundaries are when you let everyone into your hula hoop and step out into other’s hula hoops. Healthy boundaries are when you allow safe, respectful people into your hula hoop and don’t venture out of your own space. Safe, respectful people may include a trusted partner, friend, and therapist. Not everyone fits into your hula hoop, and you don’t need to go into other’s hula hoops.
We can wear several hoops; some smaller and closer to us and some are larger and further away. Think of a bullseye with the several layers of rings. We decide who is okay being in which hoop. When we identify which hoop or ring someone fits in we manage our expectations of them and the relationship. Someone who is in a ring further out, may be a great person to laugh with, but they may not be the best person to go to when you want to talk about something stressful. This doesn’t mean they are a bad friend; rather this means that they are simply not the right person for the need and you can look in another hoop/ring for someone who might fit this role for this need better.
With your hula hoop safely in place, you can explore types of boundaries and possible phrases to help you set them at work and home:
Physical Boundaries. These boundaries pertain to your space and body and how comfortable you are with closeness to another person, often relationship depending. The following phrases may help as you put physical boundaries in place. If they sound scary at first, it’s okay. Part of setting boundaries is respecting yourself so that others can do the same.
“Please knock before you come into my room or office.”
“I’ve had a really tough week and need some rest.”
“Please don’t touch me like that again.”
“Please wear a mask around me.”
Emotional boundaries. This type of boundary is to help protect your heart. When emotional boundaries are not strong, you can become confused about what is your feeling and what is the other persons. This can look like taking on the emotions of others, not having separation between what is theirs and what is yours, losing yourself and your needs to them and theirs, and accepting responsibility for their emotions. When you are emotionally boundaried, you accept responsibility for your emotions, not others. You are able to identify what emotions are yours and you are able to protect yourself from taking on the emotions of others. Consider using some of these statements to help set this boundary.
“I’m not in a good headspace to support you with this right now.”
“I am going to need to pause from this conversation, take a break, and come back. I’m maxed emotionally.”
Resource and time boundaries. Most often, this boundary comes up around how you spend your time. Respecting your time and other’s time means showing up or calling when you say you will. With so many people working remotely, it is important to discern time available vs. free time. These are not the same. Here are a few examples of how to set this boundary.
“Saturday afternoon is the time I recharge, so I won’t be available.”
“Do you have time in your day to chat for 15 minutes or so?”
“I am unavailable after 6:00pm to respond to emails.” – The key with this is to stop sending emails after 6pm to match your actions with your words.
Material boundaries. These boundaries have to do with your money and possessions. Be clear with what you are comfortable with sharing, with whom, and why. Are you giving away in order to try and fill a void of connection? Are you giving and feeling resentful? If so, perhaps this is not the means to getting your emotional needs met. Saying no to giving away material things when you are not comfortable doing so or simply don’t want to is okay! Material boundaries can be set with these phrases.
“I don’t allow people to drive my car. I’m uncomfortable with that.”
“You’re welcome to wear my clothes with permission.”
“I’d rather you not wear my clothes as I don’t feel comfortable sharing them.”
“I’m sorry this is a hard time for you. I am not able to support you financially. Let’s look at some resources that might be available to you.”
Boundaries can be a challenge for anyone, especially if you did not have them modeled for you growing up. Circumstances are different for everyone, but now that you are an adult, you can begin the work of setting new boundaries that will serve you in your relationships at work and home. Learning new behaviors to help you set boundaries can be imperative to your well-being.
As more people work remotely, the lines are starting to blur with appropriate workplace behaviors regarding time and resources. As holidays near, the need for boundaries is surfacing with friends and family.
You will not be able to please everyone as you set boundaries, but you will stop disappointing yourself. Give yourself grace as you navigate new territory or have to reinforce boundaries that have been set. Reflect on what matters to you most and listen to yourself when you hear the voice inside of you say yes or no. This is a starting point for boundary setting and it often takes courage do so.
The bravery with boundaries doesn’t stop once you acknowledge you have needs. The next step is to surround yourself with others who respect your needs. You may have people around you who aren’t there yet. Part of this work is to decide whether to keep those people in your life or not. You may have a boss or coworker who doesn’t respect your boundaries, so consider this an opportunity to practice standing up for yourself. If you find the behavior is unacceptable, you may need to take further action.
Think about your comfort level and what you are willing to tolerate. The more permission you give to be treated a certain way, the more people will adhere to what you tell them with your words and actions. If you keep bumping up against a circumstance, you may be healing the part of yourself that previously accepted a behavior. Lean into the process to see what you learn about yourself.
With the holidays, this might be the time you get really clear about what you are willing to accept from friends and family. If you don’t feel comfortable with a dynamic, don’t partake in the discomfort. Five minutes of boundary setting can relieve you from a lifetime of resentments. Victimhood and bullying can stem from lack of boundaries. You get to control what behaviors you accept. Sometimes this process means stating and showing people more than once. Depending on the behavior, you might find this to be okay or not okay. Align your body, mind, and spirit by pausing and breathing in order to help you put boundaries in place.
When you start to hear yourself say should, a boundary may be encroached upon. This person should do this. That person should handle this differently. Often, these are projections of how we wish people would treat us. Use your shoulds to redirect your behavior while you set boundaries. If something bothers you about someone else, it is safer to blame than to understand why it bothers you. Give yourself permission to explore the discomfort and disappointment. You can’t control what others do around you, but you can control how you show up and present yourself.
As your boundaries get set in place, you may find yourself shifting and people around you doing the same. Reactions to boundaries are a reflection of how people feel about themselves, just like your boundaries are a reflection of you.
Allow yourself to grow and evolve into someone you respect with boundaries that make you proud. As with most things, boundaries are progress not perfection. Safety and comfort are guides to successful boundary making.
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We help people learn to build positive relationships through identifying and building boundaries with themselves and others.
Click on the links below for more information:
Young Adult Counseling
Support for Therapists
Help For Depression
Substance Use and Recovery Support
Trauma Therapy and EMDR