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Boundaries 101

“Boundaries” has become a bit of a buzzword recently in mental health-related literature, yet it’s not uncommon for people to feel confused about what this term actually means (and what it doesn’t).

So without further ado, today’s blog is designed to introduce you to this concept so you can become more intentional about implementing and respecting boundaries in your day-to-day life. (Leave a comment below if you want to see more posts on boundaries in the future!)

First Things’ First: What even is a ‘boundary’?

Boundaries communicate what the limits are in different areas of life. The different domains in which we can have boundaries include:

  • Intellectual: thoughts and beliefs about different topics

  • Emotional: feelings/emotions

  • Physical: preferences about physical touch

  • Sexual: physical intimacy (including but not limited to sexual intercourse) and/or sexually-motivated emotions/interactions

  • Financial: money and finances

  • Talking and listening: how we listen and/or respond during interactions

On a more general level, boundaries can be grouped into two categories based on who they are protecting. In this way, there are:

  1. Self-protecting boundaries: boundaries that protect us from other people.

  2. Other-protecting boundaries: boundaries that protect others from us. (Western society seldom talks about this one 🙄.)

The Spectrum of Boundaries

Boundaries occur on a spectrum from loose to rigid. When boundaries are loose, they're like lines in the sand and can change at any moment. When they're rigid, they're like brick walls that do not budge.

On the self-protecting level, people with loose boundaries are like sponges who absorb everything rather than being able to filter what comes in and what stays out. Someone who feels like an absolute failure after getting one piece of constructive criticism has loose boundaries in this realm.

On the other-protecting level, people with loose boundaries say whatever they feel whenever they want rather than assessing if communicating their thoughts/feelings is appropriate in a particular situation. Someone who says something offensive and tops it off with "I'm just being honest" has loose boundaries in this realm.

On the self-protecting level, people with rigid boundaries tend to find vulnerability especially difficult. They might not see the point in sharing things about themselves or communicating their ideas.

On the other-protecting level, someone with rigid boundaries struggles with being open-minded. They may be more prone to thinking that their way is the best way to do things and have a hard time being flexible or taking in new information. This is the person who calls someone "crazy" if a moment of white privilege is called out.

We want to strive for boundaries that are firm yet adaptable—where we take in some information but not all of it, be flexible to a point, and respect someone else's ideas and maintain confidence in our own.

Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Boundaries

🧠 Appropriate Intellectual Boundaries:

  • Respecting that other people have different beliefs and views, even if you don’t agree with them

  • Only giving your opinion when someone asks or asking for their consent to give your opinion first

  • When giving your opinion, you speak from the “I” position, while respecting that they might have different opinions, wants, and/or needs from them

  • Example:

  • Fatima’s friend asks her if she thinks she should leave her girlfriend. Fatima responds with, “I do have some concerns about you girlfriend’s drinking habits, but they're based on my own boundaries and limits around alcohol, which might differ from yours.”

🧠 Inappropriate Intellectual Boundaries:

  • Stating your opinion even though no one asked you for it

  • Mocking or belittling other people’s beliefs or ideas

  • Trying to convince people that your idea is right

  • Not respecting the fact that people are also entitled to being uninformed and/or ignorant (based on what these terms mean by your standards)

  • Interrogating people with questions about their life choices

  • Examples:

  • Amar and his husband have just moved in together. Amar’s brother starts asking questions about who is going to pay for what in terms of groceries, the hydro bill, rent, etc. Amar’s intellectual boundaries are being violated.

  • Kevin's friend tells him he has gained weight upon seeing him for the first time after COVID-19. The friend is violating Kevin’s intellectual (and potentially emotional) boundaries.


❤️ Appropriate Emotional Boundaries:

  • Keeping other peoples’ feelings in mind when you say or do things

  • Understanding what feelings belong to you versus what feelings belong to another person

  • Saying "no."

  • Not tolerating emotional abuse (i.e. name-calling, belittling, mocking, etc.)

  • Tending to your own self-care rather than putting others first to the point of exhaustion

  • Examples:

  • “If you continue shouting at me like that, I will have to leave the room and exit this conversation.”

  • “I won’t be able to come to the event, but thank you for inviting me.”

💔 Inappropriate Emotional Boundaries

  • “Taking on” other peoples’ emotions as if they are your own

  • People pleasing or doing things to gain others’ approval

  • Asking why someone is “so cranky” when they’re just having an off-day

  • Engaging in emotional abuse

  • Examples:

  • Huang’s wife comes home from work in a bad mood. He asks “what her problem is” and then becomes frustrated versus understanding that his wife is entitled to having a bad day too and distancing himself as a form of self-care if he needs to.

  • Kayla is sick of people taking advantage of her, so she starts saying “no” to any request from anyone, no matter how reasonable it is.


🤝 Appropriate Physical Boundaries:

  • Respecting other peoples' physical space.

  • Respecting peoples' comfort levels during COVID-19.

  • Respecting peoples' limits around physical touch.

  • Examples:

  • Azhaar's culture does not support physical touch with the opposite sex. As such, her male therapist does not shake her hand at the start of each session, even if he would with other patients.

  • Wearing a mask in public.

🤝 Inappropriate Physical Boundaries

  • Being a close talker.

  • "Making someone" greet you with a hug or kiss even if they look visibly uncomfortable.

  • Not wearing a mask in public during COVID-19.

  • Touching or getting close to people who have shared that they are taking COVID-19 precautions especially seriously.

  • Examples:

  • Not wearing a mask in public during COVID-19.

  • Touching or getting close to people who have shared that they are taking COVID-19 precautions especially seriously.

  • Telling your daughter to "give Uncle Kevin a kiss" even if she doesn't remember him or looks uncomfortable/unsure of him.


👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨Appropriate Sexual Boundaries

  • Taking "no" for an answer or saying "no" if you are uncomfortable with doing something sexual.

  • Not requiring an explanation when someone is disinterested in something related to physical intimacy.

👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨Inappropriate Sexual Boundaries