Do you ever wonder how you’re doing when it comes to boundaries?
Healthy boundary setting is a lifetime skill and that means it takes practice. Our boundaries continually evolve throughout our lives and our relationships, so even if you feel like you’re already a boundary boss, it’s great to take an inventory every so often.
In today’s episode, I’m breaking down the five different types of boundaries and walking you through how to do a boundary inventory so you can see where to focus your attention to strengthen your skills.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Let’s do a refresher on the 5 different types of boundaries:
1. Physical Boundaries
The most basic boundaries have to do with your body. This includes who has the right to touch you and when, and how much personal space you may need. Examples of physical boundary violations could be someone grabbing you without your permission or someone barging into the bathroom while you’re in the bathtub without knocking.
What does it sound like to assert a healthy physical boundary? You could say something like, “I’d like to make a simple request that you knock before you come into my room.” Or “Please don’t grab me from behind, it makes me uncomfortable.”
Even though these requests are simple, it doesn’t always mean it’s easy to express them, but the more you practice asserting yourself and your boundary rights, the easier it gets.
2. Sexual Boundaries
You and you alone get to decide what kind of sexual touch is acceptable for you as well as how, when and with whom you have intimate exchanges. Your sexual boundaries need to be completely self-determined.
Someone coercing, pressuring, or forcing you to be sexual with them or behaving in any way that makes you uncomfortable without your expressed consent are examples of sexual boundary violations. This can include grabbing you, massaging your shoulders, or making lewd or inappropriate comments.
Listen, I have absolutely been in a situation where someone will say something so inappropriate that they think should be flattering, but no…it’s a straight-up violation. If it’s unwelcome and makes you uncomfortable, it’s a violation.
Setting a healthy sexual boundary can sound like, “Please step back. You are too close for my comfort.” Or, let’s say you’re ready to be intimate with someone for the first time- you can say something like, “Do you have a condom? I only have protected sex.”
3. Material Boundaries
This is how you relate to your material possessions and how you want others to relate to them as well. How many people have access to the things you own? Do you lend money or not? Would you let someone borrow your car? Are there areas in your home that are off limits? All of the conditions and stipulations around your stuff fall under material boundaries.
An example of a material boundary is someone using your computer without your permission or borrowing clothes from your closet. One of my sisters used to take clothes out of my closet without my permission or saying a word. At the time we both lived in NYC and she would use her key and help herself even when I wasn’t at home. Finally, I put my boundary in place and attached a consequence to it: “If you don’t ask me to borrow things going forward, I’m going to have to take my key back.” Thankfully, it worked and she began to respect my material boundary, but I had to put that consequence in place so she knew how serious it was for me.
What if someone asks you to borrow money and you are not comfortable with it? You can say something simple and direct like, “I have a no lending money policy. It’s not personal, but the answer will have to be no.”
4. Mental (Intellectual) Boundaries
Your mental boundaries are all about your values, opinions, and beliefs. When you have healthy mental boundaries you know what you believe and what you think about things. It also includes your ability to listen to others even when you don’t agree with what they think and to maintain your own opinion, even when you are in the minority and others don’t agree with you.
Mental boundaries allow us to take in what someone else says without taking it personally or getting defensive. They help us have those difficult or uncomfortable conversations without shutting down or exploding.
Someone making demands instead of requests, disparaging your beliefs, guilting you, or trying to convince you to change your mind are examples of mental boundary violations.
To assert a limit in a situation where someone is trying to wear down your “no” or change your mind you might say something like, “You’ve asked and I’ve answered,” or “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”
5. Emotional Boundaries
At a live, in-person event I did recently, 96% of the people in the room said they had the most difficulty with emotional boundaries. This category has to do with being clear about what is on your side of the street and what is on someone else’s side of the street emotionally.
You are responsible for your feelings just as others are responsible for theirs. When you have strong, healthy, emotional boundaries, you don’t blame others for the way that you feel. On the flip side, you don’t accept blame for how someone else feels.
If your emotional boundaries could use some strengthening, you might feel compelled to fix things for the people around you or give unsolicited advice or criticism. You might get very emotional or combative. When our emotional boundaries are blurred, we can get defensive if someone disagrees with us or if someone doesn’t take our advice.
An example of an emotional boundary violation is someone telling you something like, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Here’s the thing: no one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel.
You can say something like, “I’m not looking for feedback, just a compassionate ear. Please don’t tell me how I feel.”
As you went through the 5 categories, did anything stand out to you? It’s up to you to determine what is and isn’t ok with you when you are interacting with others. Your personal boundaries are totally unique to you.
What’s your current boundary style? There are 3 basic boundary styles:
- Porous – This style means your boundaries are too malleable or easily swayed. You might overshare personal information or be overly invested in the problems and issues of others.
- Rigid – If your boundaries are too firm and inflexible, you might never ask for help, even though you could use it. You might minimize your closeness with others because of trust issues.
- Healthy – the sweet spot in the middle!
Inside this week’s downloadable guide, I’m giving you a boundary inventory to help you get more clarity around where your boundaries could use more strengthening, so be sure to grab that here now.
As I said at the top, creating and maintaining healthy boundaries is a lifelong skill, and as we and our relationships evolve, as we mature and get to know ourselves better, our boundaries will become more nuanced. When we commit to expressing our boundaries clearly and fully, we set ourselves and our relationships up for success.
I invite you to get radically honest with yourself- how are your boundaries doing when it comes to…
…your family of origin?
Internal boundaries have to do with how you relate to you. Do you keep your word to yourself? Do you do the things you say you’re going to do?
Because here’s the thing– if we are putting up with bad behavior from others (or ourselves), our internal boundaries are disordered. When our internal boundaries are healthy, we don’t continually accept (or dole out) crappy behavior.
As your boundaries and your relationship to yourself transform, so does everything else. If you could use some more help around this, I have good news for you.
Boundary Bootcamp, my signature 8-week course on all things boundaries, is now open for enrollment!
I’ve packed every single tool I’ve gathered over the last 20+ years to provide you with a COMPLETE program that will uplevel not just your relationships, but your entire life.
Here’s where you can get all the details and enroll in Boundary Bootcamp 2022!
I want to leave you with my new favorite affirmation:
Let it be easy. Let it be joyful. Let it flow.
Feel free to use it yourself, especially when it comes to your boundaries! I hope this episode was helpful to you and if it was, please share it with the people in your world.
You can drop me any comments or questions below (I read them all) or connect with me on Instagram @terricole or in my free FB group here.
Have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
I've realised that I have difficulty filtering advice, especially from close friends. I find I often second-guess myself, or try to synthesise and take on the advice of several friends, and often end up confused or regretting it when that advice turns out to be not so great after all. I guess this is a boundary issue, but could you say more about filtering advice. I'd still like to be able to share intimate details of my life with close friends and to respect their views, but don't want to feel confused about my own experience, and of course I need to be the one making the decisions. I really struggle with this. You're a star, appreciate all your work so much.
Hi Katie – I think spending more time with your own thoughts about what you should do and being very discerning about whose advice you seek will be helpful. Thanks for being here. ❤️
Love this podcast, I have a question can we have porous boundaries in one field and rigid ones in another. or can we have porous boundaries with some people and rigid one with others. To have boudaries become rigid in a certain circumstance or with certain people, does that reprensente a shift of some kind , or a learning process to instill better boudaries. ? Thank you for you answer
Mary Ann Allard
Hi Mary Ann,
Yes, that’s definitely true! IT can be a learning process, but it can also be a result of the type of relationship you have with the individual. Understanding the boundaries you have is a great first step in learning where you should adjust them to have healthier and more fulfilling relationships! <3
Thank you for your work and all you contribute on the topic of boundaries. I’m a professional coach and consultant and find it very difficult saying No to clients who express a need. This leads to lots of work (helpful) and also lots of overload and burnout. What kind of porous boundary is this – a material one ie: my time and energetic resources? How do you advise people in my industry deal with this?
Thank you for being here and for your comment! I think setting boundaries with clients is a huge step and just as important as personal boundaries. It’s a great sign that you’re already aware of this issue. Try to decide what you want to flex your boundaries around and where you want to be able to say no. Then start practicing this new boundary with clients and see if it feels right. Even if you feel guilty at the beginning, you may end up realizing that it’s saving you from burning out and therefore, from not being able to help your clients in the future. <3