FREE Discover Your Boundaries PDF
When we think of boundaries, we often don’t think of them as part of our self-care routine, but they totally are. Boundaries are the limits and rules we set with ourselves in our lives, physically, mentally, and emotionally. You see, it’s not just about relationships, it’s also about the boundaries we set when we close the lid on our work laptop to how much screen time we really want to have. It’s saying “yes” to ourselves and saying “no” to things we know will keep us from our goals. Yes. Boundaries are probably one of the most important things we need in our daily self-care routine.
More About Boundaries
Boundaries are complicated. People usually have different boundaries in different settings, such as having professional boundaries at work with coworkers to having looser boundaries with your friends at happy hour. In this example, you see different settings can interpret how you set your boundaries based on what is deemed appropriate or not appropriate. It could also depend on the people like whether you are with your immediate family, extended family, or hanging with your roommates. It can also be culturally dependent on how people express themselves emotionally and physically. Hence, why boundaries are complicated. There are many variables within them.
As you read on, I welcome you to see what people and settings you think of as you explore more about how boundaries are drawn into your own life. Now, I’d like to share with you different types of boundaries because how you set them can be either hard, soft, or balanced. Please note that these different boundary types can often be unconscious of the person exhibiting them. It takes self-awareness to understand your boundary type and whether or not you are being intentional with the boundaries you set.
Hard Boundary People
People with hard boundaries can seem like they are emotionally or physically distant. They typically avoid intimacy and close relationships. They are unlikely to seek support when they need it and tend to be overly independent which leads them to have few close relationships. They can seem detached, even to their romantic partners, and personally will keep others at a distance, often to avoid the possibility of rejection. Their hard boundaries serve a purpose, and that’s primarily to protect themselves.
Hard boundary people also protect themselves in ways outside of relationships. They are the ones who have “hard stops” with meetings, so when it is 3 pm and the meeting is supposed to end, they’re out. If you put your hand on their shoulder to comfort them when they are upset and they don’t want to be touched, they are going to remove your hand and let you know that’s not ok. If they go for a run every Saturday morning and if you ask them to go for brunch at the same time, they will probably say “no.” They are the type of people who are going to do what they want to do. At times, hard boundaries can be a benefit. Hard boundary people know themselves and their needs very well. They respect themselves and usually assume others will respect their boundaries the same way they respect their own. Hard boundary people are usually very conscious of their boundaries, but often not aware of how they may negatively affect others in their lives.
Soft Boundary People
Soft boundary people alternatively have little to no boundaries. They are the type to overshare information with anyone, and also tend to get over-involved in others’ issues. They often have trouble saying “no” to other people so they end up saying “no” to themselves and “yes” to everyone else. This is the person who has a work deadline but is responding to all of their texts because they have a hard time setting a boundary with others and themselves. This is because they have a fear of rejection if they are not catering to other people’s needs. They are the “over-caring” individuals who put everyone else ahead of themselves, which means they usually have poor self-care. They also are typically non-confrontational and avoid any conflict at all costs. They rely on others to dictate their lives in various ways including being dependent on others’ opinions and not allowing themselves to have a voice.
Not having a voice, soft boundary people are usually unconscious of their poor boundaries and are the most likely to feel the polar opposite of self-care. On one hand, they may completely disregard their own needs and put their entire focus on catering to others without understanding the consequences or being conscious that the consequences may be related. By consequences, I mean the mental, emotional, and physical signs of a lack of self-care. For example, maybe it’s the feeling of being overwhelmed, stressed, or physical signs of burnout such as rapid heart rate, tension, headaches, etc. To become conscious of poor boundaries, a soft boundary person would have to first experience a negative emotion or negative sensation. This feeling would need to be perpetual and building so that it would get them to reflect. Only then, through their inner work, would they begin to understand how their lack of self-care stems from soft boundaries.
Healthy Boundary People
So now that we know what hard and soft boundaries are, you may be wondering what healthy boundaries look like. People with healthy boundaries are flexible…with themselves. They can harden and soften at the appropriate times that work in their own best interest and then in the interest of others in times of need. However, this flexibility doesn’t come with a price because they aren’t in any way compromising their values. They can read the room and know when they crossed a line and recognize when to draw a line if there isn’t one. Rather than seeing only their own opinion or only seeking the opinion of another, they hear other people and can create their own opinion from all the information that they receive.
Communication is usually open with equal elements of talking and listening, there’s a willingness to compromise, but again, without compromising personal value systems. Healthy boundary people do not over or under share with others. They intuitively know when to share and when not to share because they have a good understanding of where the boundaries are between people, places, and within themselves. Healthy boundary people are usually very conscious of these boundaries and that is what helps them know where to draw their boundaries when they are needed. They also have no problem accepting when others say “no” to them because there’s mutual 2-way respect for boundaries in general.
Now that we know what a Healthy Boundary person looks like, we can look at different boundary types that we can respect and hold for ourselves individually…
Types of Boundaries
- Physical Boundaries: We know these well from social distancing. It’s the concept that everyone has a personal bubble that we keep a reasonable distance from unless we know it’s ok to cross (like kissing our partner) or shaking the hand of someone we just met. It can also be a physical boundary as in we aren’t going to cross the fence into private property or use someone else’s desk in the office. Sexual boundaries can also be seen as physical boundaries, sometimes signs are mixed and lines are blurred. Unless you are sure, open verbal communication to ask about physical boundaries is important. Not only in a sexual way, but I’m also thinking culturally where hugging someone in one culture may be a positive and normal thing, but in another that could mean something negative or send the wrong signal. These are all examples of external boundaries, which can sometimes be seen and sometimes be invisible, yet understood.
- Intellectual: These are mental boundaries that represent our thinking. It’s what we think, how often we think it, and what we do with the information in our head. If you are constantly feeding yourself catastrophizing thoughts without a boundary, those could negatively affect you and keep you from moving forward in some way. Oppositely, if you are constantly pumping yourself up with toxic positivity, you may not be being realistic with the expected outcome. People with ruminating thoughts understand the power of intellectual boundaries because they have a hard time letting go of specific thoughts that they allow to uphold that rumination. These boundaries can also be seen as values, thoughts, ideas, and how the thinking affects you as a person.
- Emotional: Linked to intellectual boundaries are emotional boundaries. Healthy emotional boundaries keep us in a neutral state to accept and explore our emotions with curiosity instead of allowing them to control us, impose our emotions onto others, or allow others’ emotions to be imposed upon us. These boundaries help guide us to understand how we respond to others and how we can reflect on our feelings to do our own inner work. You get to decide how you set and accept your emotions and where to draw the line with others or situations, such as maybe having feelings for your boss and working through that because you know that is an inappropriate boundary you cannot cross. Another example could be that you know every time you speak with your mother you find yourself angry because she does not respect your emotional boundaries, so you may talk to her less to respect your boundary.
- Time: I think it’s worth mentioning a time boundary because time boundaries tend to be a large problem for us in this world of constant information. There is always something going on online, offline, and everywhere at once. Fear of missing out, or FOMO is a real thing. Just look at the hours of social media we consume daily. Time boundaries can be concrete and external such as setting a particular start and end time to complete a task. They can also be internal as in you are going to talk to a friend on the phone until you feel the ending boundary before you end the call. Time can also be a partner to the other types of boundaries we mentioned like how long you are going to allow someone to physically hug you, how long you will allow yourself to think negative thoughts about yourself, or how long you will allow yourself to feel guilty.
I hope after reading this, you now understand how important boundaries are for your self-care. Use your feelings to guide you in your boundary work to discover when and where you have hard, soft, or healthy boundaries. As you do your boundary work, you will learn a lot about yourself in terms of how you act and respond to the world and the people around you. As you grow and change, you may find others in your life do not have boundaries being set. No one likes hearing the word, “no,” but if they are having a strong reaction to you saying “no,” it probably means that they have their boundary work to do. You can let them know your journey and how you are feeling better figuring out the boundaries in your life or you can always share the link to this article in hope that they will also improve their healthy boundaries and become more flexible and respectful of your mutual relationship.
This is all important information as it helps you understand and learn how to move forward in your life so that you can show up for yourself in a way that gives you what you need along with the flexibility you need as life continues to happen for you. When you create healthy boundaries in your life, you are practicing a piece of true self-care.