What Does it Mean to Have Healthy Boundaries?
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What Does it Mean to Have Healthy Boundaries?


The concept of setting boundaries is becoming a popular concept and drawing a lot of attention.


Despite the term’s popularity, though, a lot of people are confused about what it actually means to have healthy boundaries. They might struggle with guilt when they try to set a boundary with a loved one, or they may question the necessity of setting boundaries at all.


Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about setting and holding healthy boundaries.





What Are Personal Boundaries?


Resources from the University of California Berkeley describe personal boundaries as “limits and rules” that a person sets for themselves within a relationship.



The American Psychological Association expounds upon this definition and explains boundaries as “psychological demarcations” that protect an individual or group’s integrity and help them to set realistic limits on their participation in relationships and activities.


People who have implemented healthy boundaries have the ability to say “no” when they want to. However, they are not so closed off that they are uncomfortable opening up to intimacy or fostering close relationships.




What Are Healthy Boundaries?


Everyone’s personal boundaries are different. What is healthy for one person might be unhealthy for someone else, and vice versa.


In general, though, people who have set healthy boundaries for themselves share the following characteristics. They:

  • Value their own opinions and beliefs
  • Don’t compromise their values for others
  • Share personal information in appropriate ways (no over or under-sharing)
  • Know personal wants and needs, and can communicate them clearly
  • Accept when others say “no” and reinforce their own boundaries



On the flip side, if someone has unhealthy boundaries or no boundaries at all, this may be a sign that they don’t have a strong sense of personal identity. According to licensed marriage and family therapist Tracey Cleantis, they may also be codependent or enmeshed with someone else. This can lead to relationship problems including frequent conflict.


Enmeshment vs Codependency


Enmeshment describes a relationship between at least two people in which their personal boundaries are unclear and permeable (sometimes they can be passed through and sometimes they cannot).


An example of this is financial enmeshment. The Journal of Financial Therapy explains this as a situation in which parents involve their children in financial matters that they cognitively and emotionally are not ready to handle.


Codependency, on the other hand, describes an intense reliance on another person. In a codependent relationship, the other feels worthless unless they’re needed by the other. As a result, they will fail to set or hold boundaries to try and maintain their relationship with that individual.


Good Boundaries


Why Do We Need Boundaries? 


Healthy boundaries are essential for all people. When individuals set healthy boundaries, they get to experience a variety of benefits, as do their partners, family members, friends, and colleagues.


The following are some of the main reasons why boundaries are so important. Boundaries:

  • Allow individuals to set guidelines for how others are allowed to treat them.
  • Help people to feel safe in their relationships.
  • Minimize resentment in relationships.
  • Help people to avoid overexerting themselves and sacrificing their mental health.
  • Improve self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Allow people to advocate for themselves and form their own identity separate from others in their relationships





Are Boundaries Selfish?


Some people have a hard time setting boundaries because they assume that they are being selfish. Furthermore, others may react poorly when someone else sets a boundary because they think that person is being selfish.


In reality, boundaries are not selfish. They are acts of self-care. They help people to preserve their mental health, uphold their values, and maintain healthy relationships.


Often, those who react negatively to someone setting a boundary are the same people who benefited from that person not having clear boundaries in the past.


For example, a person who has been able to call their friend at any time, day or night, and ask for a ride may suddenly feel put-off when that friend establishes a boundary and says they can’t give rides without a certain amount of notice. Over time, though, if this boundary is upheld, both parties will benefit, and the relationship is more likely to be preserved due to the decrease in communication problems.





Why Do I Feel Guilty About Setting a Boundary?


Those who are not used to setting boundaries might feel guilty at first when they do so. This is especially likely if their friends, partners, or family members do not respond well to them setting boundaries (like in the example above).



One way to overcome guilt, recommended by Ilene Strauss Cohen, Ph.D., is to remember that setting boundaries gives other people the opportunity to take more responsibility for themselves. This, in turn, allows them to improve their own functioning and expand their abilities to do things on their own.




Why Do I Have Trouble Having Healthy Boundaries?


If someone has trouble having healthy boundaries, it might simply be because they haven’t had enough practice setting them.



The problem could also be that they lack a strong sense of self. If someone is in a codependent or enmeshed relationship, they may struggle to define themselves outside of that relationship, which can make it harder for them to enforce boundaries.



Working with a therapist can help to combat these issues. It can also help the person who’s struggling to feel more comfortable and confident in finally setting and maintaining boundaries.




Examples of Good Relationship Boundaries


For people who have a hard time setting boundaries, it can help to see what healthy ones look like. The following are a couple of good examples:

  • Saying “no” when someone doesn’t want to do something
  • Listening and respecting when someone else says “no”
  • Setting clear spending, borrowing, or lending limits
  • Obtaining clear consent from the other partner before engaging in sexual activity




What Are Examples of Bad Boundaries?


Just as it can be helpful to learn what a good boundary is, it can also help to see what bad boundaries look like. Here are a few examples of bad relationship boundaries:

  • Feeling responsible for other people’s feelings
  • Feeling responsible for “fixing” others
  • Touching people without permission
  • Someone failing to speak up when someone does something without permission





Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish information for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.