It’s easy to think of “personal boundaries” as a subjective set of preferences. But while that’s true in a limited sense, a more meaningful examination of our own boundaries help give us an idea of how to implement them more effectively in our lives — especially when they’re being compromised.
What are personal boundaries?
According to the University of California, Berkeley’s University Health Service, personal boundaries “are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships.” That straightforward definition is more varied when diving into the minutiae of personal boundaries and various types of personalities.
The University explains how personal boundaries manifest across a spectrum of personality types, from rigid, porous, and healthy.
- People with rigid personal boundaries are more likely to have few close relationships. They’ll likely keep most people at a safe distance, even those they’re romantically involved with.
- Someone with porous personal boundaries might seem like they’re eager to please others, or might compromise their own comfort for the satisfaction of others. They might “fear rejection if they do not comply with others,” and might have a hard time saying no.
- A person with healthy personal boundaries often understands their own preferences and doesn’t compromise them. They don’t tend to overshare personal information or cater to the needs of others in any way that undermines their own integrity.
Those are the ways people might exhibit personal boundaries, however there’s more to the concept pertaining to how we recognise when to implement personal boundaries in daily life.
The five types of personal boundaries
Life will spur your personal boundaries into action, and psychologists have distilled the various kinds of personal boundaries into physical, emotional, sexual, material, and time boundaries.
- Physical boundaries involve your willingness to engage with physical contact, whether that’s simply someone sitting next to you on a bus or roughhousing with friends, for example. The earlier you set the boundary, the better — so if you don’t like hugs, for example, be confident in telling someone “I’m not a hugger” and offering a handshake.
- Emotional boundaries are the limits, or lack thereof, you’ll place on sharing intimate feelings with others. It also encompasses the emotional energy and labour you can put into certain relationships. Saying something like “I just really don’t have the bandwidth to discuss this, but maybe some other time,” for example.
- Sexual boundaries encompass your comfort and consent with sexual contact. It stems beyond unwanted sexual contact, and applies to your relationships with longterm monogamous partners as well. Confidently stating “that’s not my thing” or “I don’t do that” can help send a clear message, especially early on.
- Time boundaries involve how you want to spend your time and the amount of time you’ll allocate to various endeavours, like attending an acquaintance’s birthday party. Saying something to the effect of “I can come by, but only for a couple of hours,” is an effective way to communicate time boundaries.
- Material boundaries encompass “setting limits on what you will share and with whom,” according to CBT Psychology Associates. This might involve not lending a car to someone in your family, for fear that they won’t respect your possessions. Depending on your relationship with someone you can decide whether to offer an explanation for why you aren’t, say, loaning out your things, but be careful not to fall into a debate.
How to implement personal boundaries
As psychotherapist F. Diane Barth explained in Psychology Today, boundaries are about knowing oneself and effectively articulating a preference.
Boundaries are not about pushing people away or about trying to control them. They are about clarifying what you value — including your own space, your own beliefs, and your own self-esteem. Clarifying and communicating those values can not only make you feel better about yourself but can also, sometimes in surprising ways, improve your relationships with other people.
If you’re able to communicate your personal boundaries effectively to others, you’ll find that interpersonal relationships will improve, in addition to your own self-reliance and awareness.