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What are boundaries anyway?!

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​What are boundaries anyway?!

In my 24 years of experience interviewing PAs, EAs and support staff professionals, one of the common themes that comes up is the ongoing struggle to set boundaries.

Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial part of life and an important aspect of any self-care practice. Someone who’s not used to setting boundaries might feel guilty or selfish when they first start out, but setting boundaries is necessary for the ability to thrive in our careers for mental health and wellbeing as well as our relationships. Appropriate boundaries can look very different depending on the setting, and it’s important to set them in all aspects of one’s life.

Finally, while setting boundaries is crucial, it is even more crucial to respect the boundaries that others have set for themselves. This goes for parents, children, romantic partners, bosses, co-workers, and anyone who interacts with or has power over anyone else. Respect is a two-way street and appreciating the boundaries others have set for themselves is as important as setting boundaries for oneself.

The first step is to understand what boundaries are and Dufflyn describes this brilliantly!:

Physical - This is about physical space and touch. Physical boundaries take into account an awareness of what's appropriate and what's not in context. So, a hug, shake hands, a kiss? Physical boundaries can be violates when someone touches you when you don't want them to or when they invade your personal space. For example, bursting into your bosses office without knocking.

Intellectual - intellectual boundaries respect the ideas of others with an awareness of appropriate discussion. Are we talking about the weather or religion? Intellectual boundaries may be violated when someone dismisses or belittles another person's thoughts or ideas.

Emotional - emotional boundaries limit when to share and when not to share, personal information. So for example gradually revealing personal information in the beginning stages of a relationship, as opposed to dumping our whole story on the first date. Emotional boundaries may be violated when someone criticizes, belittles, or invalidates another person's feelings.

Material - material boundaries will be about setting limits on what you will share and with whom. So for example, you might feel comfortable lending your car to a family member but not to someone you just met that day. Material boundaries are violated when someone steals or damages another person's possessions, or when they pressure them to give or lend them their possessions.

Time - time boundaries mean setting aside enough time for work, hobbies, and relationships. Time boundaries are violated when someone demands too much of another person's time. For example, if a boss texts their employees in the middle of the night although they have clear hours from 9am to 5pm.

How easy is it for you to set healthy boundaries? Do you have any tips for setting and respecting healthy boundaries? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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