How to Communicate Boundaries
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
We all have to communicate a boundary at some point, whether at work, to our peers, or even neighbors. There are physical, sexual, material and emotional boundaries. Having healthy boundaries and being assertive enough to speak up for yourself can help protect you from burnout and from being taken advantage of. Here are the various types of boundaries.
Physical boundaries pertain to your personal space, privacy, and body. Do you give a handshake or a hug – to whom and when?
Examples of physical boundaries:
Limiting time spent with a person
Allowing yourself to have some space or "Alone time"
Sexual boundaries of what you are comfortable with
Material boundaries determine whether you give or lend things, such as your money, car, clothes, books, food, etc. Material boundaries could also involve things you are uncomfortable around, such as alcohol or drugs in your home.
These boundaries protect your sense of self-esteem and ability to separate your feelings from others’. When you have weak emotional boundaries, it’s like getting caught in the midst of a hurricane with no protection. You expose yourself to being greatly affected by others’ words, thoughts, and actions and end up feeling bruised, wounded, and battered. When you have healthy internal, emotional boundaries, you are less likely to “catch” someone else’s mood.
Examples of emotional boundaries:
Putting one’s self-care routine as a priority in a relationship (Examples: Working out, getting nails or hair done, counseling appointments, twelve step meetings, video game time, etc.)
Maintaining a certain level of independence while in a relationship
Not saying “Yes” to everything, and learning to say “No”
Not answering the phone right away
Limiting or deleting social media if you find it drains you or negatively impacts your mood
Not sharing private information with “un-safe” or un-predictable individuals (Being able to say no when you don't feel comfortable sharing something private)
Limiting the amount of time you let a friend vent to you if you are concerned about “catching” their mood
Leaving work at work (Making an emotional boundary with yourself that after 5 PM, you will take a break)
TIPS WHEN COMMUNICATING BOUNDARIES:
Use “I feel” language (I feel, I want, I need)
Do not get aggressive (Avoid raising your voice, cutting someone off while speaking, hostile body posture, etc.)
No is a complete sentence (Don't feel like you have to explain why you are uncomfortable with something. If someone respects you, they will respect your boundary)
Here are a couple sample conversations of someone communicating a boundary:
Example of someone communicating an emotional boundary: (Jackie is communicating an emotional boundary here regarding what information she is comfortable sharing)
Catherine: Who did you vote for in the last election?
Jackie: Oh, I like to keep those things private.
Catherine: Oh come on, I won't judge you I swear.
Jackie: I know, I'm not worried about that. I just don't feel comfortable.
Catherine: I told you who I voted for though.
Jackie: I know, and I do appreciate that. It's just not something I'm comfortable with.
*Notice that Catherine kept pushing and Jackie remained calm, repetitive and assertive. Usually the individual will back down and respect your boundary if it is direct enough and consistent. If you waiver, or hint that you are willing to give in, then they may keep pushing.
Example of someone communicating a material boundary in a relationship:
Jennifer: Hey Mollie, can I use your car on my road trip this summer to Yellowstone? I need 4WD since there might be some snow.
Mollie: Glad you get to go on a fun trip! I actually don't feel comfortable lending out my car because I don't want to add a lot of miles on it.
Jennifer: Please! I'll cover the gas and everything. If I keep it on cruise control, that will help with the mileage.
Mollie: I do appreciate that, and I"m sure that would help, but it's not something I would be comfortable with. I wish I could help! Maybe you could rent a car with 4WD?
Sometimes you don't have to understand why someone has a boundary. You may even think their boundary is weird or odd. Your romantic partner or close relationships may reveal why they have certain boundaries as your relationship progresses. You want to be flexible and respect boundaries when they are reasonable. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself!