A boundary is a line or limit that separates what you’re okay with from what you’re not. It can be helpful to think back to the visual of the fence. Everything inside the fence is what you like and want to embrace in your life. Everything outside the fence is what you don’t like and don’t want to be part of your life. While rigid fencing can lead to isolation, weak fencing can lead to trespassing. The best kinds of fences have gates that allow flexibility in who can come in and go out to honor changing relationships, circumstances, and healing. A healthy boundary allows you to open the gate to new people, friendships, and support systems while still holding firm to the limits that will help you feel secure. For more examples of what rigid, weak, and healthy boundaries look like, you can refer to the chart below.
Those with Rigid Boundaries
- Use boundaries to push people away.
- Use boundaries to try controlling other people.
- Are not open to hearing others’ viewpoints.
- Are overprotective of personal information.
- Aren’t willing to appropriately adapt boundaries to different contexts.
- Say no to things simply because they are outside of their comfort zone.
- Seem detached.
- Believe their own boundaries are more important than others’ boundaries.
Those with Weak Boundaries
- Don’t set boundaries for fear that others won’t approve.
- Are controlled by other people’s behaviors and opinions.
- Accept abuse or disrespect from others because they feel it’s what they deserve.
- Overshare details of past trauma with others, even new acquaintances.
- Feel it’s their job to fix everyone else’s problems.
- Don’t say no to others, even when feeling uncomfortable or emotionally overwhelmed.
- Believe others' boundaries are important but hesitate to establish their own.
- Reinforce boundaries inconsistently or don’t reinforce boundaries at all.
Those with Healthy Boundaries
- Stand up for personal values and don’t compromise out of fear or doubt.
- Consistently communicate and reinforce boundaries.
- Are firm, but not rigid, in reinforcing personal boundaries.
- Respect their own boundaries and the boundaries of others.
- Develop emotional closeness at a pace that is comfortable and best suits their healing journey.
- Share personal information appropriately with others.
- Willing to try new things as long as values aren’t compromised.
- Place trust in those who have earned it.
Setting a healthy boundary generally involves:
- Identifying a relationship or situation in your life where you may have a boundary that is currently too weak or too rigid.
- Determining how you’d like to change that boundary into something healthier.
- Planning an action to communicate that change.
let's look at an example:
Over the past year you have been attending therapy and practicing strategies to help manage the trauma of child sexual abuse. Your partner is very supportive and has been doing all they can to help you along your healing journey and be the supporter you need.
However, over the past few months you have started refusing to go to any social engagements, family events, or work functions with your partner because you are worried about becoming triggered. Each time your partner asks if you’ll go with them to one of these social settings, you say no. While your partner has been patient and empathetic, you feel that your boundary may be too rigid and is putting a strain on the relationship. So you decide to adjust the boundary by laying out the details (see example to the side).
Now, it’s your turn!
Next, think about an area of the relationship (or of your life in general) that you’d like to focus on, and write that area down next to the relationship. Here are a few examples:
Think of your breath as an anchor that holds you to the present. Your breathing serves you right now, in this moment. You cannot take breaths for the past or for the future—only for your present needs.
So let’s begin.
Repeat this for 2–5 minutes, or if you are using the exercise to help manage a trigger, repeat these steps as many times as necessary to feel grounded in the present moment. You may also choose to place both hands over your heart as you envision it expanding and contracting. As your heartbeats slow, your breathing will get deeper, continuing to calm you.