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Defining and Setting Healthy Boundaries

Cheerful hispanic man looking at father during conversation at home

Boundaries – the limits we set and uphold between ourselves and others – are a necessary part of all relationships. However, determining the sorts of boundaries that are healthy for us is not always easy. Healthy boundaries create mutual respect that is consistent with your personal values, and promotes your physical and psychological well-being.

Different Types of Boundaries

Boundaries often look different for different relationships – you likely share different levels of emotional, physical, and financial connection with friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners. There are five main realms of boundaries, and for each specific relationship in your life. The boundaries in each of these realms may differ:

  • Emotional boundaries: Determining what you do or don’t want to “own” as far as your emotional involvement with the feelings of others. This may mean not allowing yourself to get drawn into your teenager’s bad mood, feeling like you need to get mad at the person at whom your friend or coworker is mad, or taking on responsibility for your partner’s happiness.

  • Intellectual boundaries: Expecting your right to your own viewpoint to be respected and valued, without necessarily insisting that others agree with you or are happy with your views.

  • Physical boundaries: Honoring your need for personal space in any given relationship or at any particular point in time. This includes your level of comfort with physical touch or proximity.

  • Financial boundaries: Decisions regarding how much and with whom to share financial information or access to funds. This also includes respect for personal decisions regarding how much you are willing to spend in any particular situation.

  • Sexual boundaries: Decisions around the timing and nature of any sexual contact, including what is off-limits as well as how consent is handled.

Recognizing Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are ones that avoid the extremes of being too rigid or too porous. People with rigid boundaries tend to avoid intimacy and close relationships, and keep others at a distance to avoid rejection or hurt. They are also highly protective of personal information and tend to share very little. Usually appears detached, and won’t ask for help even when it’s needed.

On the other hand, individuals with overly porous boundaries may overshare. They have trouble saying “no” even to things they don’t want to do or aren’t good for them. Additionally, they get overinvolved with others’ problems and feel responsible for other people’s feelings, are highly concerned with the opinions of others, and may tolerate disrespect or abuse for fear of judgment or rejection.

With healthy boundaries, a person knows and communicates their wants and needs, accepts “no” for an answer, and expects their own “no” to be respected as well. They don’t compromise their own well-being and values for others’ opinions, share to an appropriate degree, and form close but respectful connections with others.

Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries requires self-awareness as well as communication skills. It is an ongoing process of evaluating your own needs and preferences and communicating them to people in your life. If you grew up in a family with a lot of enmeshment (over-involvement, with high emotional reactivity and few boundaries) or in a family with little closeness, you may find it difficult to determine what healthy boundaries are.

If you find yourself struggling with boundaries in your life or within a particular relationship, you may benefit from working with a mental health professional to identify your needs and values as well as any fears or early experiences that may be obstacles to setting healthy boundaries. They will assist you in building communication skills with family, friends, or other relationships. This is so that you can set and maintain boundaries that are healthy for you.

At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ we have a team of licensed professionals with day, evening, and weekend hours available for individual, couples, or family therapy. Please visit us at, Facebook, or Instagram.  Call us at 908-322-0112 for further information.


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