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How to identify and advocate for your boundaries.

Though many of us have heard of the concept of "setting personal boundaries," not many people know where to start. That's because boundaries are not a simple thing we can surround ourselves with or a way of keeping people at arm's length (and thus shield ourselves). Instead, boundaries should be aligned with what we want to experience, and as such, will be unique to each person – informed by our personal goals, values, and other social, emotional, and spiritual factors.

Regardless of what they are at any given time, boundaries are rules we set for our relationships in order to protect ourselves. The goal: to minimize negative emotions that result when our limits are exceeded. Knowing what boundaries to set and how to set them can help us reduce feelings like anger, resentment, jealousy, isolation, and sadness across a broad spectrum of our relationships.

Generally speaking, there are five types of boundaries and various tolerances that we set for ourselves. When these boundaries are challenged or disrupted somehow, results include stress, anxiety, or strain upon relationships both in the moment and over time.

Physical Boundaries - your comfort and rules around personal space, sharing, privacy, your body, or physical contact with others.

Sexual Boundaries - your comfort with intimacy, sexual contact, sexual identity, and even discussions around sex.

Intellectual Boundaries - your comfort with thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, including sharing your own point of view on a given subject.

Emotional Boundaries - your comfort sharing your feelings or hearing about another's.

**Financial Boundaries -**your comfort or lack thereof discussing financial matters or knowing about the spending habits of others.

Remember, setting and respecting boundaries is about self-care, so establishing long-lasting ones can take a little trial and error. Consider the following boundary setting advice:


To set boundaries, first identify the types of discussions or moments that make you uncomfortable. Do you feel anxious when friends are discussing their income? In this case, you might need to set more strict financial boundaries. Do you wish your partner would open up more about their feelings but realize that you are also not sharing? In this case, you might need to open up your emotional boundaries. This may involve checking in with your personal valuesto narrow in on what exactly you are responding to or what you wish to prioritize.

Be Realistic

Setting boundaries does not happen overnight. In fact, we set them all the time, constantly adjusting in response to people, places, and situations, whether we like it or not. Our boundaries can open and close over time depending on our life circumstances and the company we keep. Consider how differently you act when you are first meeting someone compared to after you have known them for months. Mindfully setting new boundaries takes incremental adjustment and taking stock of the relationships that need adjustments. So start small. In addition to allowing these boundaries to integrate with your other, more established ones, you will also be able to keep better track of the effect of slight changes. Tracking will be especially useful if you set a boundary that you realize later was more harmful than helpful. In this case, be sure to let others know about your experience and then advocate for your need to change boundaries moving forward.


In addition to letting others know your boundaries, be sure to check in with the comfort of others, particularly in your most intimate and essential relationships. Avoid evaluating body language and tone of voice to guess someone's personal boundaries. Instead, focus on direct questions like, "Are you open to talking about X?" or, "Is there anything I am doing or saying that is making you feel uncomfortable?" These conversations should not be confrontational. In fact, they can go a long way to improving all kinds of relationships when framed as either a preference or in terms of mutually beneficial outcomes. Though it's not always possible, communicating boundaries often works best early or upon recognition of a problem ('to nip it in the bud') so that unchecked boundaries do not grow into resentment and conflict.

Remember, boundaries are not about closing yourself or being difficult – they are personal, value-based, and crucial means to champion our wants and needs. In the long run, this form of self-care is not about centering yourself in every situation; instead, when you can clearly communicate boundaries, you center relationships and reduce conflict and stress associated with unclear expectations, misunderstandings, and misinterpretation about another's intentions or reactions.

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