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What Are the Different Boundaries We Need to Set?

By: Zana Van Der Smissen, LPC

Hello, and welcome back to another blog post! This week we will be discussing the different boundaries we need to set depending on the situation we are in. Boundaries are one of the most popular and important conversations that happen in therapy because as humans we are constantly wanting to find the perfect balance between taking care of ourselves and being a part of a community. That being said, we don’t necessarily talk about all the types of boundaries there are so let’s jump right into it! 

6 Common Boundaries You Can Set

There are a total of six types of personal boundaries that you can set up in different scenarios. A “boundary” for this blog will be defined as “guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits” (Robboy, 2022). With this definition in mind, boundaries are also about setting up expectations and communicating that beforehand so that 1) you are protecting yourself, and 2) you are creating healthy communication in your relationships. Now what those boundaries look like for your relationship is different for each person to keep in mind that some of your boundaries might look more rigid or more flexible depending on the situation.

Physical Boundaries 

Let’s start off with the most common boundary, physical boundaries. These boundaries are specifically around your own personal space, your privacy, and your body. The rules that you create are up to you of who they apply to, when they are applicable and how they can be respected. A great example of this is when we are studying or focusing on something and we ask our roommates or our family to not disturb us while the door is closed. The door is a physical boundary that you have set specifically during the times when you are studying. Another example that I think is important to highlight is when you are seeing family and you do not feel comfortable hugging one of your relatives, you are actively setting a boundary of what feels safe for you and your body and this is a personal choice. 

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries are tricky. These boundaries are often disrespected due to the relationship that the individual has with this other person and how society perceives a “close relationship”. Breaking this down further, you can set emotional boundaries with a friend and still have a close relationship with them. The more respected the boundaries are in the relationship, the more likely the individual will feel safe and welcome to open up about their feelings. So what are emotional boundaries? It is when we decide to share certain personal information with others and when we decide not to or choose that that individual is not a ‘safe’ individual to share that information with. 

Time Boundaries

The most common boundary that we find ourselves making every day is time boundaries. These are boundaries that we set when managing our schedule and creating commitments that we believe should be respected by others and vice versa. The best example of a time boundary is the boundary that you respect when staying online for your work until 5 pm as well as your manager respecting that time boundary by not asking you to work late. Now, this boundary is not always respected, especially when different scenarios arise such as a “busy season” at work and you are expected to work later. However, talking through expectations before this happens can allow you to set boundaries that make sense for both parties and allow there to be a better working relationship. 

Intellectual Boundaries

The second half of the different types of boundaries are ones that aren’t talked about as much but are just as important and can be great to talk about with your partner, friends, and loved ones. The first type of boundary under this category is intellectual boundaries. This is when you set a boundary around topics, discussions, and ideas that you are wanting or do not want to discuss depending on the time, place, and who you are with. This type of boundary comes up mostly with clients during the holidays when they are wanting to set a boundary of not discussing politics around the Thanksgiving dinner table to ensure everyone is comfortable interacting with one another. Therefore intellectual boundaries can be set in group settings and one on one with other individuals. 

Sexual Boundaries

A boundary that is talked about more in the couples counseling space is sexual boundaries. These boundaries address what each individual is wanting physically, and emotionally from their partner when it comes to sexual wants and needs. Depending on what you are needing from your partner, you can set a boundary around when, where, and how you would like to be shown affection. Now setting these boundaries with a partner can be difficult because of various wants in a sexual relationship not being able to be fulfilled or differing libido levels; there is a spectrum of what kind of difficulties might come up with sexuality in a relationship. That being said, this could be a great topic to bring to therapy of how to set those boundaries with a partner and knowing when you want those sexual wants and needs satisfied and when not. 

Material Boundaries

The final boundary, for this blog, is material boundaries which refer to your belongings and how, when, and by whom you would like them to be shared with. This can be as small as borrowing a shirt and returning it clean to the original owner to borrowing someone’s car and returning it in the condition you received it in. These material boundaries can be found a lot with children and in relationships where the value for material possessions might look different for each individual. Therefore, it is worth a conversation when borrowing something in the first place in knowing more about what this belonging means to the other person. This will set up better expectations of how you should take care of other people’s materials. 

By breaking all of this down, I hope you are able to set some different types of boundaries within various relationships in your life. It is also a reminder that boundaries are not “negative” or “bad,” but they allow us to navigate our lives in a way that protects our own mental health and as a result, gives us better relationships with others. If you would like to learn more about setting personal boundaries, or you would like help with setting them, therapy can help. Contact Symmetry Counseling to arrange an appointment with a Chicago counselor, and get support in your mental health journey. 

Robboy (2022) What are Boundaries? The Center for Growth. https://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/tips/what-are-boundaries

Therapist Aid (2016) What are personal boundaries? . Therapist Aid LLC. file:///C:/Users/Zana%20Van%20Der%20Smissen/Downloads/boundaries-psychoeducation-printout.pdf

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