All About Boundaries - Part 1

The topic of “Boundaries” has become quite popular these days. We often hear that we need to set better boundaries, however many of us feel unsure about what boundaries actually are and how to implement them in our relationships. Over the next few blog posts, Edmonton-based counsellor, Selena Arcovio, helps to unpack this buzzword to see what it actually means to be mindful of our boundaries and how we can intentionally use them to cultivate more rewarding relationships with ourselves and others. Having an in-depth understanding of boundaries and your personal barriers to creating healthy boundaries is an important part of counselling. If you want to learn more about yourself and boundaries, reach out to us today!

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are the imaginary lines that separate us from other people in our lives. They separate our physical space, feelings, needs, and responsibilities from others. Our boundaries outline how others can treat us, how we can treat ourselves, what is acceptable to us, and what we will not tolerate. 

Boundaries help us:

  • Define our roles and responsibilities in relationships
  • Practice self-care and keep us from burning out
  • Manage our expectations of ourselves and others
  • Communicate our needs, desires, and values to others
  • Feel safe, secure, and supported in relationships
  • Create a strong foundation for healthy relationships with ourselves and others

Boundaries can be very firm, flexible, or barely existent and they can change over time, in different situations, and in different relationships. They can range from saying things to your partner like “I need 20 minutes to decompress after I get home from work before I can start dinner” to saying things to a coworker like “Please don’t come by my office today. I really enjoy chatting with you but I am so busy and I am behind on my projects.” 

Boundaries with ourselves might include making sure we put our phones down at a decent time on work nights instead of scrolling on Instagram until 1 am. They can also look like being mindful of our negative self-talk and reflecting on the messages we internalize from others. We have all had an interaction with a person in our life that has left us guessing whether or not they are upset with us. Being mindful of our self-talk and setting boundaries with ourselves can help us quiet that little voice in our heads that has us taking responsibility for other people’s emotions or behaviours. 

Different Types of Boundaries

There are many different types of boundaries. Understanding the different types of boundaries can help us more clearly identify how to integrate helpful boundaries in our own life. 

Here are some different types of boundaries that you might have in your life:

  1. Physical Boundaries – These are our boundaries around touch and personal space. An example of this might be your 6 foot covid bubble. You may not have cared if people came close to you in the past, but now you might be more aware of when others enter your 6-foot bubble.
  2. Property Boundaries – These are the things we own or claim as ours, even if we do not actually own them. An example of this might be your car. You might allow your partner or teenage child to use it, but only if they ask first. A different example could be your office chair at work. You do not own it, but you might be upset if someone took it and did not bring it back.
  3. Emotional/Relational Boundaries – This is how we want to feel and how others around us want to feel. This is about respecting and caring for ourselves and others. A significant emotional/relational boundary that many people struggle with is related to not taking responsibility for other people’s emotions. Everyone’s emotions are their own responsibility. As long as we are treating others with respect and dignity, we need to foster a boundary that separates others' emotions from our own. An example of this would be if your partner is in a bad mood and you question whether you did something wrong even though they didn’t mention any concerns to you. Sometimes these thoughts can sometimes continue even after your partner has clarified that they are not upset with you.
  4. Sexual Boundaries – Physical and emotional aspects of sex, who we like, what we like to do with the people we like, and who we share information about sex with.  Maybe you talk to your friends about sex but it would be uncomfortable if it came up in a conversation with your mother.
  5. Intellectual Boundaries  - our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, and how they are respected. Intellectual boundaries are separate from emotional boundaries because someone can be emotionally kind but not respect your worldview, expertise, or knowledge. An example of an intellectual boundary violation at work might be if your co-workers' expertise are valued higher than your own, despite having the same education and experience.
  6. Spiritual Boundaries – are our belief systems, how we practice them, and what we choose to share about our spiritual beliefs. An example of respecting others' spiritual boundaries would be not scheduling work parties with food during Ramadan in case there are employees who are fasting during the day.
  7. Time Boundaries – these boundaries are related to how we use our time. An example of being mindful of personal time boundaries would involve being intentional about the amount of time spent on social media or watching Netflix so that you have enough time during the day to practice self-care. 

Structure of Boundaries

Boundaries are not just the “hard limits” in our lives but they also include the “maybes” or the “yeses with limits”. There are three main structures for boundaries – permeable, rigid, and flexible. 

  • Permeable Boundaries: Everything can get through these boundaries. They are defined for you by others in your life. With permeable boundaries, you are letting others do whatever they want regardless of your needs or desires. 
  • Flexible Boundaries: Flexible boundaries are continuously adjusted so that we can protect ourselves while also experiencing growth. Flexible boundaries give us the space to compromise, which can lead to the betterment of ourselves and our relationships. 
  • Rigid Boundaries: Some boundaries should be rigid if they defend real safety, security, or our core values (to a limit). These boundaries reflect needs rather than wants. Sometimes when we have experienced trauma, we tend to have more rigid boundaries. This is okay and serves to protect us from further harm. However, with time and a felt sense of safety and security, we notice those boundaries can often become a bit more flexible. 

We often find ourselves on autopilot, going through the motions every day without realizing that the stress, frustration, and burnout we are experiencing are because our boundaries are being crossed.  By bringing mindful awareness to these internal and relationship dynamics, we are able to switch out of autopilot mode and cultivate personal and relationship boundaries that reflect our needs, desires, and values.  

Counselling work often includes working with clients on their boundaries. Edmonton-based therapists at Holistic Healing Counselling work with clients on boundaries by exploring the different types of boundaries their clients have and the structures of those boundaries. Our counsellors work with their clients to determine whether or not their boundaries move them towards their personal and relationship goals. They also work with clients on identifying rigid boundaries which might be reinforcing beliefs created as responses to traumatic experiences. Our trained therapist will help you to identify the best balance of boundaries for you to live an authentic and fulfilling life. Ready to work on it? Reach out to our masters-level trained therapists today and start your healing journey. 

In the next blog post of this series, we will be discussing what boundary violations look like and how to be mindful of when our boundaries might be crossed. 

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Meet our certified therapists, Adam, Selena, Danielle, and Shaheen. No matter what you want to work on, we have a therapist to help. Our Counsellors focus on helping you feel at ease by allowing you to feel heard and understood. By using a holistic, or whole picture approach, our trained Counsellors can help their patients live a happier, more authentic life. Our therapists offer adult counselling, couples counselling, and adolescent/teen counselling. Interested in learning more? Need to book a session? Contact Us here.


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