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Boundaries are an act of love

As we approach the commercial holiday of Valentine’s Day; I felt it particularly important to write about an important topic: boundaries. Because, boundaries are an act of love! Did you know that during Brene Brown’s extensive research she found that those with the strongest boundaries were also most compassionate? 

There are varying definitions of boundaries but my favorite is by therapist, author and boundaries expert, Nedra Glover Tawwab which states “A boundary is something that keeps you safe and comfortable in your relationships.” 

Let’s break that down even further. What does it mean to be safe in our relationships? Yes, physical safety is paramount. But, emotional safety is also one of the fundamental rights and needs we have in our relationships. Gabor Mate offers the most concise and beautiful definition of {emotional} safety, “safety is not the absence of a threat; but the presence of connection”. Do we feel that we are connected in the relationship? Do we both know how the other one feels the most connected? Do we know what WE need to feel connected?

Let’s dive into the six types of boundaries according to Nedra Glover Tawwab

  • Intellectual boundaries: Preferences related to how opinions, thoughts, and conversational topics are shared and addressed.

Example: I really appreciate when we can discuss the upcoming election. I would really like our holiday to be free from politics. Let’s set aside some other time for that discussion. 

  • Emotional boundaries: What, where, and how much a person shares their emotional life and how your own and others’ emotional needs are handled.

Example: I am hurt by the things that were said during our argument. I need some time to process before we talk. Let’s come back to the conversation after dinner tonight. 

  • Sexual boundaries: How sexual matters are talked about, when, where, and how sexual material is presented, and consent related to sexual or sexually suggestive words, jokes, images, gestures, or touch.

Example: I am not comfortable when you make jokes like that about my body when our friends are over. 

  • Time boundaries: How you relate to your own and others’ time and how time-related needs and preferences are treated.

Example: I reserve time on Sundays to recharge for the week. Let’s look at some other times that might work for us to get together. 

  • Material boundaries: Treatment of possessions and property, preferences and needs regarding possessions and property and how possessions and property are shared.

Example: Please don’t go in my closet without asking.  

  • Physical boundaries: Physical body, personal space as experienced through your senses and preferences for respect, privacy, closeness, and touch.

Example: I don’t like when you use emotions to get my child to hug you. If my child says no; the answer is no. 

What are boundaries and what are not boundaries?

Boundaries are: 

✅Clear communication for your needs

✅Honor both parties need for respect and compassion

✅Values both peoples opinions

✅An ongoing relationship (yes, I mean we have to have an ongoing relationship with our boundaries! We must assess and evaluate so that we can remain in touch with our current needs. We don’t want boundaries that are too rigid or too porous.)

Boundaries are not: 



❌A means to control someone’s behavior, beliefs or opinions

**Please talk with your therapist about boundaries in abusive or toxic relationships.. These types of relationships require special care to develop and implement boundaries. 

The frequently asked questions about boundaries and some guidance: 

  1. What is the point of boundaries with people who don’t respect them?

It is important to remember what your point is for the boundary and how you will define success of the boundary. If you link success to approval then you will be frustrated if there isn’t respect for your boundary. However, if you define success in terms of being clear and compassionate then you will recognize that the person’s disrespect is a reflection of them; not you. 

  1. How can you tell the difference between your own avoidance to conflict and the need for boundaries?

This is a really common question! It is a complicated answer because all people are so different.  If you tend to be avoidant then you may be setting boundaries in order to maintain distance that you are comfortable with. Ask yourself if avoidance is causing issues in your life. Are you missing out on normally enjoyed activities? Is avoidance increasing feelings of depression or anxiety? 

  1. How do I prevent being too rigid or too porous? 

I like to use the image of an oven dial when thinking about being rigid or porous. Let’s say there is an event with a family member that you have had challenges with. You could completely avoid the entire situation. You could make a labor intensive snack, show up early, help out with serving and clean up and stay the whole time. Another option might be to go when it begins but leave early or drive separately if you are going with your partner. You could buy a quick and easy side dish or make the recipe you know like the back of your hand. The dial is sort of a way of imagining your attendance as a 3, 4, 5 instead of off completely or all the way turnt up. 

Explore this with your therapist in order to come up with ways to stay engaged with people while also having limits that preserve your mental wellness. 

  1. Why do boundaries seem so rude?

Women are conditioned to be kind and connected to the emotions of others. I will often repeat the possible boundary statement back and invite the person to dissect which part IS rude and which part FEELS rude. Often, it is the directness that FEELS rude but is not at all. Also, remember feelings are not facts. 

The need for boundaries at some point in your life is pretty much inevitable. Here are some suggestions the journey of boundaries:

Some suggestions when it is difficult to set and follow through with boundaries: 

  • Be patient with yourself. It is normal to revert to your comfortability (this is human nature). Establish mini goals for yourself to gain confidence with the discomfort. 

  • Normalize the discomfort. It is rare for me to encounter a woman that was given role modeling for healthy boundaries or assertive communication and therefore the struggle is often multi-generational and the sense of disappointing someone runs deeply. It is uncomfortable any time we do something different. (Would you be able to drive your car on the right passenger seat after years of driving from the left side? Probably not easily or comfortably to begin with!) 

  • Practice pausing. Reply to inquiries or requests with, “I will have to check and let you know”. Assess whether you have energy or space to say yes. 

  • Know your limits and implement a social quota for yourself accordingly.  Some people can hang out with people all day every day and never tire or need their own personal time. Some people need a break during large gatherings. Some people feel depleted if they have more than a couple social events in one week.

  • Create a routine or ritual that you practice after socializing that helps you restore energy.  

  • Explore any common patterns within your life. 

  • Quiet the noise of other people’s opinions. Often our needs go unheard because we worry too much about how people will respond to us. 

My favorite suggestion! Choose your yes! I have found that women are conditioned to say yes. Yes, I can help you with that. Sure, I can loan you that money. I can totally host the event at my house. I don’t mind, it's no big deal, I would love to…the list goes on!  

Instead of seeing no as a bad thing; change your mindset to recognize you are choosing your yes. We don’t have time for everything in life! Choose your yes! 

Some extra reading if you are interested: 

Nedra Glover Tawwab books: Set Boundaries, Find Peace or Drama Free. 

@nedratawwab also has amazing information. 

The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome by Harriete Braiker, PhD (an oldie but a goodie). 

The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate

By Harriette Lerner, PhD

(I have no paid affiliation to any of the above mentioned resources)

Please read my Creative Content Disclaimer here.


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