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What are personal boundaries?

Personal boundaries are rules or limits that separate us from other people in our lives. We will have boundaries with friends, family, partners, coworkers, and even new people we meet. There are different categories of boundaries we may have with people in our lives. Such boundaries include physical boundaries (e.g., how much we like to be touched); intellectual boundaries (e.g., whom we choose to discuss topics like politics with); emotional boundaries (e.g., how vulnerable we are with others); sexual boundaries (e.g., whom we have sex with); professional boundaries (e.g., how we behave in professional settings); and time boundaries (e.g., how often we spend time with others). The boundaries we have can be rigid, porous, or healthy and they can differ based on person, time, or environment. For instance, we may have rigid emotional boundaries at work but may have healthier emotional boundaries with loved ones. Further, the boundaries we hold may fluctuate between porous, rigid, and healthy depending on the relationship. 

How do boundaries affect our mental health?

The boundaries we maintain can have a huge impact on our mental health. When we have healthy boundaries, we may feel happy and content with the relationships we have. However, the opposite is true when we don’t have healthy boundaries. Many people seek therapy to get support on how to implement and enforce boundaries in relationships where structure is lacking. For example, when people have rigid boundaries with loved ones, they may feel as though their relationships are lacking vulnerability, intimacy, and trust. This causes people to experience a difficult time building and maintaining meaningful relationships. When people have porous boundaries with loved ones, they may feel as though the people in their lives have too much access to them and that they overextend themselves. This leads people to feel exhausted and even cynical towards their relationships. 

How can I set healthy boundaries?

It can be difficult to set boundaries with loved ones and at work. Setting boundaries with loved ones may feel like we are cutting them from our lives and setting boundaries at work can make us feel like we don’t care about our careers; however, the opposite is true. Setting boundaries means you love these people and care about your responsibilities, but you are prioritizing your wellbeing. Setting boundaries and maintaining boundaries is necessary in any relationship and doesn’t have to be difficult. To start, you can choose a relationship in your life and take inventory of all your boundaries. Then, evaluate these boundaries by assessing whether they are healthy, rigid, or porous. Next, reflect on what actions you can take to improve boundaries, reflect on how the person may respond to these boundaries, and reflect on how you feel your life may change once you improve these boundaries. Then, you can continue this process with other relationships in your life. You can also discuss boundaries and how to improve them with your therapist. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.