Draw Your Lines in the Sand

Find it hard to say no? You’re not alone. At one time or another, we all fall victim to our own ill-defined limits. Whether it is something small, such as lending something that is not returned right away, or something more serious, such as inappropriate remarks from a peer, asserting boundaries can be tricky. That task is much harder when you do not know what your personal boundaries are. Let us break boundaries down, and take it one piece at a time.

First, consider with whom you have boundaries. Does anyone have an all access pass? Hopefully not. Even those with whom we share the closest relationship, at some point, we have a boundary. However, those boundaries vary greatly from person to person. For example, we have different limits that we place on our immediate family versus strangers. Here is a list of different people to consider when defining your personal boundaries:

• Spouse/Partner
• Children
• Parents
• Siblings
• Extended family (e.g., aunts, uncles, cousins)
• Close Friends
• Co-workers
• Acquaintances
• Strangers

Second, there are different types of personal boundaries. Think about it, there are many different ways your “comfort zone” can be breached, right? A stranger stands too close to you in the grocery line, an acquaintance asks a question that feels a little too personal, or a co-worker questions your religious beliefs. These are examples of physical, emotional, or spiritual boundaries. The next step in defining your personal boundaries is by understanding what type of boundaries you have. Below is a sample list of types of boundaries:

• Physical
– How much physical contact are your comfortable with?
– Consider the range of possible physical contact, from no contact to the most intimate types of touch.
• Emotional
– How emotionally close are you comfortable with a person being?
– This can be harder to define because it is an abstract idea, meaning that it is not something we can easily define.
Helpful questions for considering your emotional boundaries are:
• How much personal information are you comfortable with this person knowing?
• At what point do you start to find it more difficult to trust this person with personal information?
• How comfortable are you in allowing this person to see you emotionally upset?
• Financial
– How much money, if any, would you be willing to lend this person?
– How much money, if any, would you be willing to borrow from this person?
• Religious/Spiritual
– Would you be comfortable sharing your beliefs with this person?
– Would you be comfortable participating in religious/spiritual exercises/activities with this person?
• Privacy
– How much access to personal information/accounts are you comfortable giving to this person?
– How much access to personal spaces are you comfortable giving to this person?

The next step to defining personal boundaries is to explore what your limits are across boundary type and person. In other words, when with a stranger, what are your physical, emotional, spiritual boundaries? How about with a close family member? Consider making a chart that you complete to define the boundaries you have with the different people you encounter in your life.

The quickest way to asserting boundaries is to know what your boundaries are to begin with.

Amie Allain, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist