Boundaries: What They Are and How to Create Them

By | February 26, 2010

how to create healthy boundaries and assert yourself in relationships

Boundaries are unwritten and unspoken lines that mark where you begin and end in relation to where others begin and end emotionally and physically. For example, we have clothing as a boundary not only to protect our skin but as a physical cue and symbol that you are you and that is where you begin. Boundaries take on many forms: physical, emotional, sexual and intellectual. I’ll explain about the specifics of these boundaries in more detail below. Healthy boundaries are the groundwork for a growing stable relationship. Knowing where you begin and where others end is a key understanding that allows individuals to listen, respect, and honor others ideas and behaviors that are different from their own. Individuals that have unclear boundaries often trample emotionally on others as they don’t have a good sense of where the boundaries are and how to engage in relationships due to their own boundary confusion. Boundaries help differentiate us from others and help us clarify who we are and what we are about. Those that do have a clear sense of their core Self can also more clearly speak and share their needs and hopes with those they love. They will thus have a strong sense of their own identity and be able to honor the unique traits and identity of others. Individuals that have a solid sense of their own core Self and their own boundaries also typically do not feel threatened by the intimacy/closeness of the relationship. They also can allow others to think and do differently than them and be ok with it.

Boundaries are the unwritten but often felt lines that we as human beings draw and sense with others. Boundaries help us stand up for ourselves, protect our thoughts/feelings, demarcate when you end other others begin, and they help us only decide what we really do want without being hurtful or pushed into things by others.
Boundaries help to define who we are and who we are not. They keep us separate yet connected in our relationships and help relationships grow and blossom. Boundaries also help people to regulate the personal space of their relationships. All individuals need time and space to take care of themselves outside their relationships. They are able to do so when they have a clear set of boundaries on how they operate with others. These boundaries, once set, can allow and educate others on what you are comfortable with and what works for you. Other will then know better what to expect from you, how to react when relating with you, and what role they plan within that relationship. Boundaries are in constant flux. Ones sexual boundaries are clearly different with a spouse than with coworkers. The nature of physical boundaries in one setting at work or in community settings will be very different that what is health and appropriate at home.

Four Primary Boundaries
  • Physical – allows one to define and understand who will touch you, how they can or can’t touch you, and when you can be touched, and how close others can be in proximity to you and you still feel comfortable. .
  • Sexual – You choose who and when to share your sexuality with, how you talk about sexuality, who you share your sexual thoughts/feels with. Sexual boundaries include more than sex itself. Sexual boundaries include innuendoes, jokes, gestures that you watch and listen to.
  • Emotional – my feelings/thoughts need to be protected. Ones emotional boundaries do include how others talk to and treat you and how they respect your emotions. Your boundaries also include how you see and honor others emotional boundaries.
  • Intellectual – boundaries protect ones thought processes and intellect. You protect how others talk with you, how your ideas and thoughts are honored or considered.
Peoplewith Unhealthy Boundaries Peoplewith Healthy Boundaries
Can’t stand up for themselves Standup with their own thoughts/feelings
Can’t separate thoughts/feels from others thoughts and feelings often resulting in debate and argument Allow others to have different thoughts/ideas and listen to themeven if they don’t agree
Don’t say ‘no’, afraid of hurting others Can say no, don’t worry about others views
Feel responsible for others feelings become defensive when others don’t agree with them Own their own feels and allow others to have their own views
Easily hurt by others, can’t assert self Can protect themselves and others don’t impact their esteem
Wait for others to take care of their needs Assert themselves and take care of their own needs.
Become upset with others thoughts/ideas Can manage others thinking and doing different than them.

Boundaries are in constant flux depending on the relationship you’re in and the nature of that relationship. As you develop healthy relationships and clear healthy boundaries you can then have the benefits that come from genuine healthy connection with others without the obstacles of hurt feelings, walking on egg shells, and other symptoms that come as a result of unhealthy or unclear boundaries. If you feel you need help creating, defining, or managing your relationships and the boundaries connected to them schedule an appointment with me, I’d be happy to help you along in your journey.

Copyright: No part of this article in section or full may be reproduced without permission from the author Justin Stum, MS LMFT. The one and only exception is for educational purposes and only if the contact information below for the author is fully cited here in article. Justin Stum, MS LMFT, 640 E. 700 S. Suite 103, St. George Utah 84770, 435-574-9193,

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