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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

What are Personal Boundaries?

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

What are Personal Boundaries?

Types of Boundaries

A group of people standing next to each other.

  • Physical boundaries refer to personal space and physical touch. Healthy physical boundaries include an awareness of what's appropriate, and what's not, in various settings and types of relationships (hug, shake hands, or kiss?). Physical boundaries may be violated if someone touches you when you don't want them to, or when they invade your personal space (for example, rummaging through your bedroom).

  • Intellectual boundaries refer to thoughts and ideas. Healthy intellectual boundaries include respect for others' ideas, and an awareness of appropriate discussion (should we talk about the weather, or politics?). Intellectual boundaries are violated when someone dismisses or belittles another person's thoughts or ideas.

  • Emotional boundaries refer to a person's feelings. Healthy emotional boundaries include limitations on when to share, and when not to share, personal information. For example, gradually sharing personal information during the development of a relationship, as opposed to revealing everything to everyone. Emotional boundaries are violated when someone criticizes, belittles, or invalidates another person's feelings.

  • Sexual boundaries refer to the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of sexuality.

  • Healthy sexual boundaries involve mutual understanding and respect of limitations and desires between sexual partners. Sexual boundaries can be violated with unwanted sexual touch, pressure to engage in sexual acts, leering, or sexual comments.

  • Material boundaries refer to money and possessions. Healthy material boundaries involve setting limits on what you will share, and with whom. For example, it may be appropriate to lend a car to a family member, but probably not to someone you met this morning. Material boundaries are violated when someone steals or damages another person's possessions, or when they pressure them to give or lend them their possessions.

  • Time boundaries refer to how a person uses their time. To have healthy time boundaries, a person must set aside enough time for each facet of their life such as work, relationships, and hobbies.) Time boundaries are violated when another person demands too much of another's time.

What are Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say "no" to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.

A person who always keeps others at a distance (whether emotionally, physically, or otherwise) is said to have rigid boundaries. Alternatively, someone who tends to get too involved with others has porous boundaries.

Common traits of rigid, porous, and healthy boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries

Porous Boundaries

Healthy Boundaries

Avoids intimacy and close relationships.

Overshares personal information.

Values own opinions.

Unlikely to ask for help

Difficulty saying "no" to the requests of others.

Shares personal information in an appropriate way (does not over or under share).

Has few close relationships.

Overinvolved with others' problems.

Knows personal wants and needs, and can communicate them

Very protective of personal information.

Dependent on the opinions of others.

Accepting when others say "no" to them.

May seem detached, even with romantic partners.

Accepting of abuse or disrespect.

Doesn't compromise values for others.

Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejection.

Fears rejection if they do not comply with others.

Rigid Boundaries / Porous Boundaries / Healthy Boundaries

Most people have a mix of different boundary types. For example, someone could have healthy boundaries at work, porous boundaries in romantic relationships, and a mix of all three types with their family.

The appropriateness of boundaries depends heavily on setting. What's appropriate to say when you're out with friends might not be appropriate when you're at work.

Some cultures have very different expectations when it comes to boundaries. For example, in some cultures it's considered wildly inappropriate to express emotions publicly. In other cultures, emotional expression is encouraged.

Source: Therapist Aid (2016)


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