Boundaries and Boundary-setting


by George Desnoyers




Everyone needs boundaries.  They are limits we set that are related to our activities.  Think of boundaries as fences we build to protect us from potential problems.  They are especially important to people who need to spread themselves between family and job requirements, who need to maintain constant involvement in a complex set of interpersonal relationships, who face the pressure of leading a highly public life, or who have large responsibilities.


Boundaries are sometimes set when a problem has arisen and there is an immediate need for them.  But it is usually better to set them in advance.  Our judgment is usually better when we are considering potential problems ahead of time than it is when we are suddenly faced with an actual problem.  In addition, boundary-setting after a problem has arisen (or after boundaries have been violated) is often harder due to a need to change our own behavior or to persuade others to change theirs.


The areas in which boundaries should be set vary with individuals.  Your experience with boundaries will not be exactly like anyone elseís.  Although experience with boundaries is different for everyone, they generally work best for those who tend toward orderly lives and who maintain some awareness of how they are using their time and energy.


When you are setting boundaries for your own life, you are often setting parameters that will impact others with whom you interact.  The use of reason and tact is highly recommended.


Some basic rules in boundary-setting are that we consider our abilities and limitations, that we set reasonable goals for ourselves, and that we be willing to pass responsibilities to others.  There are times when we must be assertive, and have to be able to say, ďNo, Iím sorry.  I just canít do it.Ē


Boundaries need to be taken seriously in order to work.  But they also need to be relaxed and/or re-evaluated at times.  Life sometimes brings situations that are very unusual, or even situations that we could never have anticipated.  When you decide that a previously rigid boundary must be relaxed, allow it without any feelings of guilt.  When the unusual situation goes away, you can re-impose the boundaries you had been following before it occurred.


The attached table is a partial listing of various areas in which people may want to consider establishing boundaries, and also the purposes often served by boundaries set in the different areas.





                                    Some Areas and Purposes of Boundaries


















Occupational/family/rest and recreational/contemplative boundaries


To provide for a healthy overall balance among major components of our lives






Spheres of engagement


To provide for balance in our lives with respect to our involvement with various communities, from our own family to all of humanity






Privacy boundaries


To protect family; to provide for necessary private time and space for ourselves and others; to prevent invading or violating the privacy of others; to prevent our own privacy from being invaded or violated; to prevent loss of respect






Personal/relational boundaries


To maintain individuality and trueness to self amidst the pressures to conform and satisfy others






Amount of work


To avoid burnout or collapse






Number and kinds of tasks over which energy is expended


To prevent unacceptably diluting effectiveness in important areas






Ethical boundaries


To prevent unethical or immoral conduct






Theological/religious boundaries


To avoid abandoning or compromising important theological beliefs and principles; to respect religious beliefs and practices, our own and those of others






Professional boundaries


To keep the conduct of our professional lives within acceptable standards






Physical health boundaries


To provide the diet, exercise, and rest necessary for good physical health






Spiritual boundaries


To provide for spiritual growth and well-being






Relationship boundaries


To avoid the unwise building of personal relationships with one or more persons that interfere with the proper relationships we should have with others






Economic boundaries


To provide for economic needs of ourselves and our families, for the present and future; to balance our needs with those of others; to avoid becoming excessively materialistic