The Importance Of Setting Boundaries: 10 Benefits For You And Your Relationships
Setting and communicating boundaries can benefit you and your relationships. Healthy boundaries can also offer a sense of control over your emotional and physical space and time. By learning how to set and maintain boundaries, you can develop independence and engage in healthy, positive connections with others.
Types of boundaries
Boundaries are limits (think of an invisible line) you set for what’s acceptable for your body, emotions, time, and belongings, in order to form healthy relationships. They are not rules about how someone else “should” act or conduct their life. Boundaries help someone establish their needs, and put them first, instead of leaving them on the back burner in order to please others. For example, the following are a few common boundaries:
- Saying “no” to hanging out with friends
- Refusing to converse until someone stops yelling
- Asking for your computer back after you let someone borrow it
- Ending an unhealthy relationship
- Choosing not to participate in an activity for spiritual reasons
Below are seven types of boundaries that you might encounter in daily life.
Emotional boundaries can help you preserve and safeguard your feelings. They may involve deciding what discreet information you feel comfortable discussing. If there are subjects you don’t feel comfortable discussing, let someone else know that you’re not open to discussing them. “I’m not comfortable discussing that” is a complete sentence; you don’t have to explain yourself to set a boundary.
Material boundaries involve physical belongings, space, or money. You may or may not feel comfortable taking up particular objects you own or lending someone money. You might also have boundaries about how others interact with your living space or workspace. For example, perhaps you want people to take off their shoes when they enter your home or not touch your computer. These are material boundaries.
Intellectual boundaries relate to thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. For instance, you may have boundaries about what you feel comfortable discussing regarding topics like politics or religion, or you may want to set boundaries if your views aren’t respected or are dismissed.
Physical boundaries may involve how you feel about your body or own space and how others interact with it. For instance, you may not feel comfortable hugging everyone or standing too close to someone when you’re talking.
Sexual boundaries include your comfort and consent with sexual touching or communicating about sexual topics. Educating yourself on consent can be essential when setting sexual boundaries. A sexual boundary might look like the following:
- “I’m not ready for you to touch me there.”
- “I don’t want to have sex.”
- The absence of “yes” and enthusiasm
- “I’m waiting to have sex until I feel ready.”
- “Do not kiss me.”
- “I don’t like you like that.”
Respecting sexual boundaries is crucial, as not doing so can be a form of sexual assault.
If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.
Time boundaries are associated with how you spend your time. Consider whether the activities you spend your time doing align with your values. For instance, you might value boundaries to establish a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout, prioritize time with family members, or guards time for sleep, exercise, healthy habits, or self-care. Setting time boundaries might mean saying no to an extra shift at work or making it clear to your team members that you’ll only be available during certain times. One study shows that people with undefined work-life boundaries experience decreased happiness due to emotional exhaustion.
Relationship boundaries are related to your connections with others. Relationship boundaries may encompass other boundaries, including physical, emotional, sexual, and time boundaries. In a relationship, your boundaries might differ from your partner’s. However, if your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries, you may benefit from seeking support from an individual or couples therapist.
10 benefits of healthy boundaries
Respect is one aspect of life that many feel should be given and received equally. To create a healthy relationship, it's often important to set healthy boundaries that both parties respect. Personal boundaries may benefit both personal and professional aspects of life, including relationships. The importance of setting boundaries in relationships is evident for many people, as it helps to establish mutual respect and understanding between partners.
With the rise of social media, it may be more helpful than ever to set healthy boundaries to maintain a healthy balance between online and offline interactions. By setting healthy boundaries, individuals can ensure that their personal life isn't affected by the constant stream of information on social media to improve their ability to maintain a healthy relationship with themselves and others.
Before we take a deeper look at how to set health boundaries, let’s look at ten of the benefits of healthy boundaries for yourself and your relationships below.
Protecting emotional space
If you set emotional boundaries, you may find you’re better able to protect your emotional well-being. For instance, you might draw the line at how others talk to you or treat you if you find your feelings or sense of safety are affected. Setting emotional boundaries can be an act of self-preservation and may help you increase your feelings of self-respect and self-compassion.
Protecting physical space
Physical boundaries can apply to many areas of life. Boundaries for non-sexual physical closeness and sexual relationships can help you safeguard your comfort about physical contact and your physical safety. You might also want to set boundaries regarding your physical possessions and the spaces where you live or work. These boundaries can help you care for what you have and where and how you healthily spend your time.
Separating your thoughts, feelings, and needs from those of others
Helping others can be generous and gratifying. However, when you absorb the emotions of others or become so caught up in trying to meet their needs that you ignore your own, you may feel drained. Setting healthy boundaries that define what you can and can’t take on can benefit your well-being.
Not feeling responsible for the happiness of others
You may feel tuned into the feelings of those around you, which can indicate empathy and kindness. However, attempting to control others’ emotions or be responsible for their happiness might be unhealthy. Setting boundaries may show you that you’re not responsible for how others control. It can help release you from any guilt that comes from feeling you’re obligated to fulfill the needs of others.
Enriching your relationships
If you set healthy boundaries in a relationship, you may find you can free yourself of resentment and insecurity. When you feel strong, safe, and independent, you may be able to form healthier attachments and find happier connections with others.
Protecting your valuable time
Time is something you can’t get back. By setting boundaries, you may find you can safeguard your time so that you have more to spend on what you value, tasks you need to complete, and the people you love.
Having a strong sense of identity
Without boundaries, you may find you lose your sense of self. For instance, you might be so busy trying to help others, please others, or meet others’ needs that your own identity, goals, or needs are compromised. Setting boundaries can help you find yourself and be true to yourself.
Making your needs as important as others
Preventing future conflicts
You may proactively prevent future conflicts when you establish boundaries, adhere to them, and respectfully communicate them to others. Instead of letting resentment come to a boiling point, you may be able to avoid it entirely by having boundaries in place upfront.
With boundaries, you can strengthen your sense of independence. You may have strong connections with others but separate yourself from unhealthy enmeshments. You may feel more self-confident, resilient, and in control over who you are and want to be.
How to set healthy boundaries
There are a few ways to start setting healthier boundaries in your life, including the following.
Evaluate your current boundaries
The first step in setting healthy boundaries is to take stock of what boundaries you currently have in place, what’s working, and where you think you might need more boundaries. They may be areas where you feel resentment, discomfort, or confusion. If there’s a relationship you have that has been unhealthy due to a lack of boundaries, you might consider beginning to set limits there.
Consider how you feel
Reflection and a certain level of self-awareness are necessary for someone to understand their boundaries. Consider how you feel when you’re around certain people or in certain circumstances. If you feel resentful, sad, exhausted, guilty, or taken advantage of after interactions with particular people, you may want to brainstorm how and what boundaries could help you prevent these feelings in the future. Note that ending a relationship can be a boundary.
Let the other individual know your boundaries, but keep explanations simple and focused on you. You might try using “I” statements. For instance, you could say, “I feel maxed out, so I can’t get together,” or “I feel exhausted at the end of the day, so I can’t text late at night.” You also don’t have to explain why you are setting a boundary if you don’t want to discuss it. “No,” is a complete sentence.
Learn to say “no”
Saying no can feel uncomfortable initially, but it can become more available and empowering with practice. In addition to saying “No,” you can try a few variations. For example, you might say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t take that on right now,” or “I have another commitment,” or “That’s not going to work for me.”
At times, people may not honor your boundaries because they’re unaware of them. They may not know how you feel about a particular issue. When in doubt, try letting them know respectfully what you need. If they continue to avoid your boundaries, let them know the consequences. For example, if you ask someone to stop yelling at you when they are escalated, and they continue to do so, you might end the relationship.
Boundaries can sometimes be challenging to define, or people may not respect them. In these cases, a licensed mental professional can offer tools and individualized guidance for establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. If you haven’t considered counseling due to cost, availability, or concerns with in-person options, you can also consider online therapy.
Through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples, you can connect with a licensed mental health professional within 48 hours of signing up. In therapy, you can learn healthy ways to set boundaries, strengthen relationships, and develop positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In addition, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions and receive helpful worksheets and resources from your therapist.
Studies have also backed up the effectiveness of internet-based interventions. One study found that couples preferred online therapy in video format to in-person options and felt they were better able to connect with their therapist online. They also achieved effective results for months after therapy had ended.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Below are a few of the most frequently asked questions about setting boundaries.
Why is it healthy to set boundaries?
Setting boundaries can help foster healthy relationships and independence. When you set limits for yourself, you can ensure your needs are taken seriously and show yourself self-love and consideration.
What are a few important boundaries?
All boundaries can be significant. However, sexual boundaries are often considered the most important, as sexual actions and conversations must be consensual to be healthy.
What happens when you set boundaries?
When you set boundaries, you may feel more in control of many areas of your life. You may find you can let go of resentment, guilt, and unhealthy relationships. You could also develop a stronger sense of identity and prioritize meeting your needs. These benefits can allow you to feel safer in your relationships.
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