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  • Writer's pictureJodi Sheffield LPC

Boundaries! What are those?

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This phrase which you may or may not have heard from your parents growing up suggests that eating healthy foods like apples will keep one healthy, avoid sickness, and thus avoid the doctor’s office. I wish it were as simple as eating an apple. I would have bought out HEB’s stock of Red Delicious apples if that were the case. While eating apples cannot cure COVID-19, cancer, or a broken bone, eating a healthy diet of nutritious food like apples is vital to one’s physical health. Let’s say I wanted to create a phrase that resembles this oversimplified, yet not completely untrue, maxim and is therapy-centered. A comparably oversimplified truth might be: “Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries keeps you out of a therapist’s office.” Boundaries are the building blocks to any and all types of relationships. They are the framework that protects one’s relationship with self as well as one’s relationship with others. Boundaries are the relational parameters that delineates the boundary between your space and my space, “where you end and I begin” (Katherine, 2010). According to TherapistAid, boundaries are “the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships (2016). When communicated explicitly, boundaries express our relational expectations to one another in order to avoid confusion and toxicity and, most importantly, to prevent any form of abuse in relationships. Simply put, boundaries are what keep us healthy; they’re our relational apples. When I meet with a new couple or individual client, I am constantly assessing how they approach boundary setting and maintenance with themselves and those in their innermost social circles. Boundaries, or the lack thereof, can be a litmus test to the health of a relationship. And unfortunately, most people do not understand what boundaries are until they find themselves in a therapist’s office. Regardless if you are aware or unaware of the significance of boundaries in relationships, it is vital to understand the different types of boundaries, boundary characteristics, and boundary violations in order to set appropriate boundaries in one’s relationships in real time.

Below are the types of boundaries that can and should be set in every relationship. I appreciate how the MasterClass article, “6 Types of Boundaries and How to Set Them” outlines and defines each type of boundary.

Physical: “Physical boundaries protect your personal space, determine your comfort level with physical touch, and ensure that your physical needs (for things like rest and privacy) are met.” Sexual: “Sexual boundaries include your right to sexual consent, sexual preferences and desires, and privacy. Sexual boundaries define where, when, how, and with whom you desire sexual intimacy. It can also include limitations around sexual comments or advances made upon them by other parties in different situations, like on a first date or at family gatherings.” Emotional: “Establishing emotional boundaries involves taking ownership of your own feelings and not being made to feel responsible for other people’s feelings. Everyone has the right to have their feelings respected and validated.” Intellectual: “Intellectual boundaries, also known as mental boundaries, are a kind of boundary that relates to respecting thoughts, ideas, and opinions. You may not agree with others’ opinions, and they may not agree with yours, but unless something is hurtful or discriminatory, all parties have a right to share their ideas in the way they are comfortable, without being belittled.” Material: “Material boundaries relate to one's possessions and finances. Every person has the right to set boundaries around sharing their finances, possessions, and information.” Time: “Setting boundaries around the amount of time you spend working, socializing with others, and being alone can help prevent burnout and protect your mental health.” (MasterClass, June 8, 2022)


Sometimes, these boundaries are assumed in relationships. They are communicated implicitly, and thus ineffectively. Since we cannot read another’s mind, we cannot assume that they know where our boundary lines are located. We will discuss the primary issue of communicating boundaries effectively in next month's blog as well as boundary characteristics and common boundary violations. In the meantime, start setting some boundaries. They are important no matter how you slice it! Sources: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/boundaries-psychoeducation-printout https://www.masterclass.com/articles/types-of-boundaries Cloud, Henry, and John Sims Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Zondervan, 2017. Katherine, Anne. Boundaries Where You End and I Begin: Where You End and I Begin. Hazelden Publishing, 2010.




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