11 Boundaries To Set In Your Life In Order To Maintain A Healthy Balance

Boundaries begin and end with you. They're a conscious means of establishing how you define yourself and the way you interact with others. A boundary sets limits on what is you and what is another person. Sometimes this means setting down a line between what you want in your life and what you don't. Other times, it can be a way of honoring your own values, beliefs, and feelings. At their heart, as psychotherapist Dr. Tracy Hutchinson explains, they define acceptable behavior in a relationship.

This isn't about trying to control other people in your life. But rather, it can actually create guidelines about how to maintain your relationships in a healthy way. For instance, when a person is making you uncomfortable, be it physically, emotionally, or in some other way, a boundary helps you assert this to the other person and bring the relationship back to a place where you both feel safe.

In this sense, boundaries help foster stronger relationships between people because both parties feel valued and respected. However, some people may not realize that within these confines, there are a lot of different boundaries that you may need to evaluate. And while it can be tough to establish these lines initially, in the long run, they may help to bring a sense of balance to your life no matter who you are.

Boundaries 101

At a basic level, healthy boundaries are simply rules that you follow and communicate to other people. For instance, you won't allow your feelings to be invalidated by another person, and you enact this through verbalizing that such actions make you uncomfortable, and if they continue, then you'll have to take certain steps to protect yourself. You might stop interacting with that person for a short time or take a break from the relationship until you feel that the boundary can be respected. However, how you set boundaries in your relationships will vary because they'll be a reflection of your individual needs and values.

You might say no to one person and yes to another, depending on your relationship — boundaries aren't one size fits all. In fact, too rigid of a boundary system can be detrimental, closing you off from forming relationships with others. Conversely, if your boundaries are too porous, then it can be difficult to say "no" at all, and you can end up violating both your own and other people's boundaries.

Instead, healthy boundaries allow you to communicate your needs and opinions without compromising your own beliefs. Saying "no" is okay, but it's not a rule and can adapt depending on the circumstances and persons involved (via TherapistAid). Sounds good, right? So how do we begin? Well, first, you need to reflect on the areas of your life where better boundaries might be useful.

Financial boundaries

Financial or material boundaries are about how you set limits on interactions that concern money or possessions. These might be financial requests, like someone asking to borrow money, or they might be how you respond when a person damages your possessions, and what you want to share, and who you want to share it with. For instance, as clinical psychologist Dr. Michele Goss highlights, people who enjoy financial success may often find themselves as the piggy bank for the rest of their family.

And even when you aren't in a good financial position but perhaps in a better state than someone else, you might feel obligated to help them through a rough period. However, when these requests become overwhelming or put you under pressure, or it seems like you're being exploited, it might be a sign that you don't have healthy boundaries around money. It can be especially difficult with family or friends, but sometimes we're actually hurting the relationship by not setting limits in this area.

Dr. Goss warns that it can create an imbalance in the power dynamic of the relationship, or the person may escalate their behavior because there's no consequence for their actions. In any case, your ability to provide should not be the basis of any relationship. If someone reacts poorly to you saying no, and putting financial boundaries in place, it'll only make it clear that they didn't value the relationship in the first place.

Emotional boundaries

To start with, emotional boundaries aren't a barrier to intimacy, licensed clinical counselor Kristina Fuller explains. Instead, they're a way of ensuring that your and your partner's emotional needs are honored. Conversely, when we bottle up the feelings that make us uncomfortable, they're more likely to cause conflict in the long run and breakdowns in communication.

For instance, if one person feels that a certain conversation topic is uncomfortable to them, and their partner keeps bringing it up, emotions can build up and result in arguments. The better response to these situations is to clearly communicate the emotional boundary around the issue before it spirals out of control. Therefore, it's also about the individual's ability to set boundaries for themselves properly.

Registered clinical therapist Julia Kristina demonstrates in a YouTube video that our response to emotionally triggering situations is an example of where the individual needs to recognize their own emotional boundaries. You can't control another person, but you can control how you respond. Instead of letting the anger or hurt take over, it might be time for a topic change or conversation break. She argues it's about honoring your emotional needs, and that may mean, at times, you have to prioritize your feelings over someone else's, but this isn't cruel or selfish. It's a way of maintaining the relationship overall by ensuring that you can interact with that person from a place of peace and calm rather than anger or resentment.

Mental health boundaries

Mental health boundaries are the limits we put on how our interactions with others affect our own well-being. This might be in terms of how much emotional and mental support we can offer another person. It can also concern what responsibilities we take on in helping or attending to others over ourselves. They're similar to emotional boundaries, but this idea also encompasses recognizing areas of our lives where we might be inadvertently making our mental health worse by not protecting these boundaries.

As the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance describes, it can be particularly difficult to support other people when we ourselves are going through low periods in our lives, but some people can find it hard to focus on themselves. In times of depression or poor mental health, self-esteem can drop, and we may see our own needs as inconsequential or less important than those of the people around us.

In some ways, we may even be dependent on the other person to help us mask our own problems. As we see in the book "Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free" by Nancy Levin, codependence isn't always just about enabling behaviors. It's also about the ways we can overstep our own boundaries in the pursuit of caring for others. But this isn't healthy for us or them. It simply blurs the lines between our needs and theirs, creating a vicious cycle where neither party is able to function outside the confines of the other person.

Energy boundaries

Energy boundaries are defined in a few different ways. For example, spiritual health speaker Bridget Nielsen describes them as the line we draw between us and the energy around another person, which includes their presence, what we sense from them, and their overall essence, per YouTube. If you've ever felt drained around certain people or due to certain situations, this is the kind of energy she's referring to, and it's something that particularly sensitive people can feel.

Undoubtedly, energy is a limited resource that we can expend, whether it's in the sense of our physical or mental abilities. Identifying it as a valuable resource, just as you would money, is the first step in setting this kind of boundary, which can help you to avoid burnout.  Work out what things and people in your life suck away your energy and then place limits on how frequently you let them in or dedicate time to them. This, Nielsen explains, is important because it helps us to stay grounded and care for ourselves, just as we would others.

Spiritual boundaries

A spiritual boundary is a space that protects your beliefs, particularly those of a religious or spiritual nature. They allow you to live out your life in a way that respects these beliefs or practices. This might be going to a place of religious significance or participating in whatever rituals, ethics, or behaviors are important to you. An example of where a boundary could be necessary here might be when someone disrespects or tries to prevent you from enacting your spiritual beliefs.

If you don't want to eat a certain food for religious reasons or you want time off work to celebrate a religious holiday, these are all times when it may be crucial for you to exercise these boundaries. For many people, these actions are part of their identity and inform the way in which they interact with the world. And because they form a huge part of their lives, these boundaries not only protect their religious rights but their sense of self and personal freedom, per a 2021 research article published in the Religions journal.

Without this, individuals can come to feel isolated, as though their lives are being intruded upon. Some signs of this may be feelings of resentment towards how others treat you, powerlessness, and closing yourself off to avoid being hurt. However, by putting spiritual boundaries in place which protect these inner spaces, we live more in attunement with our needs and values.

Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries, as you might have guessed, concern our physical bodies and the way in which we limit how people touch us, enter our physical and personal spaces, and the level of privacy that we may need (via McMaster University). And it's about being able to communicate these preferences to ensure that we feel safe and respected.

As licensed clinical social worker Heather Monroe explains, it's important we can set limits on how, when, and where a person touches us and what we do and don't want. At times, we may feel uneasy when someone tries to kiss us on the cheek or hold our hand. However, we may choose to remain quiet due to social, cultural, or personal expectations about physical boundaries. But when we don't communicate our limits, we're sacrificing our own needs to fulfill those of others.

This lack of clear boundaries can also lead us to trespass on others' comfort zones as we assume they, too, have no limits. Conversely, excessively rigid borders can isolate us from others and hinder meaningful connections. Therefore, to maintain a balance, having healthy physical boundaries can give us the power to honor both our needs and other people's.

Sexual boundaries

Sexual boundaries are about your preference within the bedroom. They can concern any sexual interaction you have with your partner and your level of comfort and being able to express these as expectations or guidelines that you and your partner can follow. It's a boundary that requires self-awareness and exploration, being honest with yourself about your desires and what you'll be happy to explore, and things you don't want to engage in.

And, of course, it's also a conversation that you'll need to have with the other person, so both of you can talk through these issues with equal input. Moreover, sexual boundaries, like any other boundary, can change based on your preferences and the parties involved. However, with sexual boundaries in particular, we need to be explicit about what is and isn't agreed upon to ensure that consent is given by both individuals (via Spunout)

Due to the intimate nature of sexual boundaries, it can often be difficult to have such conversations. It might feel awkward, or you might even worry that it'll damage your relationship in some way. But it's important to remember that sex is about both people's enjoyment. If anything, having these boundaries made clear can help to build trust and deeper connections, which can positively impact your sex life overall (per Vantage Point Counseling).

Time Boundaries

As with energy, time is also a limited resource. Boundaries around your time are a way of recognizing that your time matters just like everybody else's. As licensed psychotherapist Terri Cole emphasizes in a YouTube video, having disordered time boundaries, that is, whether you or someone else is always late or unable to schedule their time effectively, can have a detrimental effect on both your relationship with that person and sometimes with yourself. Simply put, it's an issue of respect for other people's time and your own.

This is especially true for people who always seem to be behind on things or experience burnout from their schedules. As the book "The Boundaries Bible" by Jonathan Riley highlights, burnout can be a sign of boundary neglect. This burnout can involve physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion which comes from not exercising control over how we use these resources. Time can often be a good measure of this.

Ask yourself when the last time was that you took a break without feeling the need to extend your time to someone else? When life is running you ragged, it can be easy for time boundaries to fly out the window, but they're an important mechanism for protecting yourself from burnout and practicing self-care, just like any other boundary.

Intellectual boundaries

Intellectual boundaries concern how and what you believe, think, and value on an intellectual level. For example, like religion, it can involve ideas or strongly held opinions that take up a special place in our lives, such as politics, things that bring up painful memories, or topics that evoke strong emotions. As Heather Monroe elucidates in a YouTube video, boundaries around these topics come from the way in which we're brought up and how our parents responded to our assertions of our own beliefs, opinions, and ideas when we were children.

A child whose ideas were constantly denied or dismissed may have problems being able to assert intellectual boundaries. Conversely, those who were always shielded from different perspectives and realities may be overly sensitive around discussing certain topics. Or they may even falsely believe that their ideas are superior and be unable to accept other viewpoints.

However, achieving healthy intellectual boundaries should not only empower us to be able to speak our minds and take leave of violating conversations, but they should also help us to be more open, particularly if a view opposing ours may actually be helpful to us in some way. And when we have these kinds of boundaries in place, it grants us perspective outside of our own, as well as gives us a voice to speak when we need it (via Soul Medicine).

Verbal boundaries

Verbal boundaries examine the types of communication, interaction, and language used in our exchanges with other people. Like intellectual boundaries, they protect our ability to speak our minds, but they focus more on how we engage with others and they with us. For instance, if you're trying to speak and someone speaks over you, and vice versa, this can be a sign of poor verbal boundaries. These aspects of communication aren't always limited to what is said; it's also about being able to read non-verbal cues, which might suggest when a person is uncomfortable with the format of discussion.

Stanford University emphasizes that not everyone has the same ability to articulate their needs, as different relationship dynamics can make it more difficult to speak up. Therefore, we often need to be cautious about assuming a person's boundaries in lieu of formal confirmation. This might be through their body language or how they respond to you physically. For example, if someone looks uncomfortable, it's worth checking in with them to make sure they're okay with whatever situation is taking place, even if they haven't stated that they are uncomfortable.

Work boundaries

As we all know, in the last few years, the pandemic has rapidly changed the way in which many people work, and it's brought up long-standing issues about the divide between our work and home lives. Some couldn't handle the unprecedented pressure to deny these boundaries and left their careers, while others stayed in a role they no longer enjoyed. Boundary setting can be a challenge (particularly at work), but it's an important issue to tackle for our overall well-being.

You might consider your contactable hours, how much overtime you put in, and whether you have a proper home-work life separation. These aren't just matters of progressing one's career. As Indeed notes, not being able to set healthy limits in the workplace can lead to increased levels of stress, burnout, and a poor example set for others that perpetuates a toxic workplace culture of employees being overworked. 

This is where healthy work boundaries are essential for maintaining a sense of groundedness and can also be a protective aid for other facets of our life. It means owning up to our own responsibilities but also delimiting where we're taking on more than we can handle.

How to enforce a boundary

So, with all these boundaries in mind, your next questions might be how should I set them and what boundary-setting mistakes should I watch out for? The first step before you even attempt to verbalize and communicate any boundaries is to reflect on what you need and want from relationships. Understanding ourselves is the most important part because at the heart of the issue is the way that we want to navigate the world. Decide what beliefs, values, and spaces are important to you.

What you choose now doesn't have to be permanent but just what feels right to you at the moment. Try not to get too tied up in what everyone else thinks. Consider what you'll do if someone breaks these boundaries. Remember you can't control other people — only how you respond. If you want to maintain that relationship in the long term, communicating your boundaries effectively will be important.

Sometimes, you might need to enact these lines multiple times or sit down with those involved to explicitly discuss where you're at in your life and what you need. Just keep in mind that when you enforce a boundary, it's not going to infringe on someone else's. It should be about mutual respect and finding a level of comfort that each person is satisfied with. But once set, you should remain firm and uphold your boundaries with integrity, as this will signal to others that you're serious. If you respect yourself, their respect is more likely to follow (via PsychCentral).