Healthy Boundaries

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are physical, emotional, and mental limits created to protect oneself from overcommitting, being used, or behaving in unethical ways. Boundaries separate what one thinks and feels from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend capture this very well in their classic book ‘Boundaries’; “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us define what is not our property and what we are not responsible for, we are not for example responsible for other people though we spend lots of time trying to do it.”

Think for a moment how confusing it is if someone asked you to guard their property diligently while holding you responsible for what happens without showing you the clearly demarcated boundaries. It would not only be confusing but potentially dangerous. This is exactly what happens when we lead lives without boundaries.

The Effect of Trauma on Boundary Development

According to Liz Mullinar, boundaries are largely formed in childhood. How a child is treated by others shapes how their boundaries are defined. When a young child’s needs are met appropriately and they feel safe and secure, the child develops and understands a healthy sense of personal boundaries. In contrast, abuse and trauma in early childhood can rob a child of the sense of safety and the need to explore their own identity.

Any type of abuse, physical, emotional, or sexual, is a boundary invasion. Victims of abuse experience a loss of control over their own bodies and lives. Children who grow up in homes that don’t function well in terms of communication or understanding where physical, mental, and emotional boundaries are not respected, often become confused, vulnerable, and insecure

Types of Boundaries

  • Physical boundaries include needs for personal space, comfort with touch, and physical needs like rest, food, and drink.

  • Emotional boundaries are about respecting and honoring feelings and behavior. Setting emotional boundaries means recognizing how much one is capable of taking in, knowing when to share and when not to share, and limiting emotional sharing with people who respond poorly.

  • Time boundaries mean understanding one’s priorities and setting aside enough time for the many areas of one’s life without overcommitting.

  • Sexual boundaries include consent, agreement, and respect, understanding of preferences, desires, and privacy.

  • Intellectual boundaries refer to one’s thoughts, ideas, and curiosity. Healthy intellectual boundaries include respect for the ideas of other people, respectfulness and willingness to dialogue and understand others.

  • Material boundaries refer to items and possessions like a home, car, clothing, jewelry, furniture, money, etc. It is healthy to understand what one can and cannot share and how one expects personal items and materials to be treated by other people.

Benefits of Boundaries

Boundaries help safeguard our time, our energy and our purpose and how fulfilled we feel. They also increase confidence and self-esteem in addition to creating stronger relationships based on mutual respect with others.

How to Set Boundaries

Effective boundary setting requires clear communication and practice:

  1. Figure out where limits need to be set.

  2. Define what needs to change.

  3. Communicate clearly.

  4. Prepare For Pushback.

While setting boundaries, you will experience pushback and infractions. Building boundaries is not an overnight process—and some people are unaware that they're constantly crossing them. The more we set boundaries, the more we recognize them. In setting boundaries, we help people show up for us, and we also become better at showing up for them.

In the words of Brené Brown, "Clear is kind."

Dr Rose Kwamboka Misati

Certified Family Trauma Professional, Parenting and Relationship Coach


Tel +254722440128

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