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Boundaries: What Does It Mean?

Good Fences Make Good Boundaries

Your “bubble”, “personal space”, “front porch”, or “fence”… what metaphor do you use to describe boundaries? This topic is one of my favorites, because so many of us struggle with saying “No”, and setting clear boundaries.  We rarely realize that a lack of defined boundaries is the cause of our relationship and life issues. Healthy boundaries can be the key to enjoyable, lasting relationships, as well as an enjoyable life in general.

Let’s Get Clear

You may have heard the word “boundaries” before, and assumed you had a reasonable idea of its meaning.  Maybe you know all about it, and you are working hard to establish limits in your relationships.  The term may have even become so cliche, that you roll your eyes when you hear it.  Well, just in case, let’s get clear about its meaning.

“Boundaries are an established set of limits over your physical and emotional well-being, which you expect others to respect in their relationship with you. Boundaries are the emotional and physical space you need, in order to be the real you without the pressure from others to be something that you are not” (livestrong.com, 2011).

A helpful visual, is to imagine yourself as having property lines, or an invisible fence around your physical and emotional space.  When someone crosses this barrier they may not be aware of it, but you are.  Socially, there are “common sense” boundaries that we’re all expected to honor, such as closing the door when using the restroom or not sneezing directly on someone.  There are also official boundaries, such as laws concerning traffic, theft, or personal property.  Additionally, each of us have our own individual boundaries.  They are not written anywhere.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to state and enforce these property lines.

Why Are Boundaries So Important?

Relationships with family, caregivers, friends and authority figures, model boundaries for us (healthy and unhealthy) throughout life.  Some people are very good about defining and asserting these limits, while others struggle.  Recognizing the condition of your boundaries is essential to the health and integrity of your relationships.  Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain that there are contents of our self that boundaries define and protect. These contents are:

  • Love: your deepest capacity to trust and connect
  • Emotions: your need to own your feelings and not be controlled by someone else’s feelings
  • Values: your need to have your life reflect what you care about most deeply
  • Behaviors: your control over how you act in your relationship
  • Attitudes: your stances and opinions about yourself

Healthy boundaries show others that you value these parts of your “self” enough to safeguard them. When they are not respected by others, it can be due to their own lack of understanding, or issues with boundaries.

So, when you find yourself struggling in relationships and other meaningful areas of your life, think about your history and understanding of boundaries. What is your relationship with the word “No”?  How have you devalued your self by not setting or enforcing your limits?





1.  Boundaries. (2011, August 8). Retrieved May 10, 2015, from livestrong.com


Originally posted on 2/18/16.  Modified on 1/31/18


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