Setting Emotional Boundaries: How It Impacts Your Well-Being

Healthy boundaries are all about living life on your terms. Learn more about how setting emotional boundaries can positively affect your well-being.

We see boundaries everywhere in our daily lives; whether it be the fences or gates we put up to refrain people from coming into our space, or the designated lanes that cars follow to ensure the smooth flow of traffic; it makes sense why boundaries are important in our personal lives.

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, boundaries are:

A psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.

In other words, these borders help define what you are willing to say “yes” and “no” to. Boundaries are what protects you from others and others from you. 

In particular, emotional boundaries are the invisible force field that you have that protects you from another person’s needs and feelings. And because many people are often not in touch with how they are feeling, learning how to set emotional boundaries can be a challenge.

We all learn about boundaries early on in our childhood from role models such as our parents and peers, as well as the culture we were brought  up in. Perhaps we have been taught that truly loving someone means sacrificing our own wants and needs; however, this is not always true. In fact, healthy boundaries are an important form of self-care and self-love that leads to safe, intimate relationships and more fulfilling experiences. 

In psychology, there are three main categories that boundaries can fall under:

An individual with diffuse boundaries may be a people pleaser and have low self-esteem. Often, they are afraid of losing love and affection, which can lead to them entering abusive and co-dependent relationships where their boundaries are crossed all the time. 

While a diffuse boundary is too open, a rigid boundary is too closed. Those whose boundaries are rigid wish to maintain control and authority and do not like to show any signs of weakness. As a result, they often respond with anger or withdrawal when their boundaries are crossed.

A flexible boundary is all about balance. This is the sweet spot where individuals respect themselves and build relationships with others who feel the same. If their boundaries are crossed, they are able to assess the situation objectively, stand firm on their values and also accept that others’ might not feel the same way they do. 

Here are some examples of what healthy emotional boundaries look like:

  • Being able to separate your feelings from another’s feelings.
  • Being able to clearly express and communicate your needs to others. 
  • Being able to say no and asking for space.
  • Not taking responsibility or feeling guilt for another’s feelings.
  • Not sacrificing your own needs to please others.
  • Finding out who you are outside your relationship.

Learning how to set healthy emotional boundaries can increase our self-esteem, reduce mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression and greatly benefit our interpersonal relationships. On the flip side, unhealthy boundaries can often make us feel disempowered in making decisions, over-rely on others for our happiness and eventually lead to burnout. 

To get a better idea of what your emotional boundaries look like, think about the last time someone made you feel dismissed, unappreciated, criticised, overwhelmed or even emotionally drained. This can be an important indicator of the point in which a boundary was crossed–from there, you can begin to self-reflect on what you needed most at that point in time and specify your non-negotiables, i.e., what you will and will not tolerate in a relationship. 

At the end of the day, boundaries are rooted in clear communication. Especially if you are setting boundaries for the first time, you might have fears of losing someone you love, being rejected or abandoned, or feel anxious at the thought of possible confrontations. Setting boundaries can sometimes also change the dynamics of a relationship, and there are times when a partner or loved one might not accept or react negatively to our boundaries, and that’s OK.

Working with a counsellor or therapist can provide you with the necessary support to better communicate your needs and practise role-playing scenarios in which you need to set healthier boundaries. Sometimes, setting boundaries might mean having to walk away from a relationship, and this can be both difficult and painful. Having someone to guide and hold a space with you while you work through this and heal can be empowering. 

As Prentis Hemphill noted: “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” 

To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us