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6 Types of Personal Boundaries You Need to Set

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
November 17, 2023

A boundary can be something concrete—like the wall between two rooms, for example—but in our personal lives, boundaries may be more abstract. Personal boundaries are the limits, rules, and expectations we set to meet our needs and help us feel safe and secure in our relationships while also allowing us to connect with people in meaningful ways.

It can sometimes be difficult to keep sight of your personal boundaries, especially when your limits are tested. Maybe your boss asks you to work on your off hours, or a friend lets you pay for dinner a few too many times without returning the favor. When that happens, reestablishing healthy boundaries is an important part of maintaining your emotional well‑being.

“When we have poor boundaries, we tend to feel weighed down, stressed, fatigued, fearful, and resentful. Decision-making can be very difficult, and our lives may not even feel like our own when boundaries are extremely lacking,” says Bethany Juby, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist based in Illinois who provides teletherapy across 17 states. “People with healthy boundaries tend to feel lighter, freer, and less affected by forces outside of them, which then allows them to have more energy, clearheadedness, and contentment.”

Here’s what to know about personal boundaries, plus tips for setting (and standing by) healthy versions of each.

Types of Personal Boundaries

Boundaries tend to fall into six main types.

1. Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries are the ones we set to protect our personal space. Often, physical boundaries come naturally, Juby says, like when we stand several feet back from someone waiting in line. A physical boundary may include wanting people to ask for consent before touching or hugging you, for example.

2. Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries are meant to protect your feelings and mental energy. Having healthy emotional boundaries help prevent you from taking on others' emotions, and help you acknowledge that you can feel differently from others while still providing empathy and support, Juby says. “Someone we care about might be having a bad day, but we don't have to take that on as our bad day, [even though] we can still listen or provide encouragement to them,” she says.

An example of an emotional boundary may be asking your friends to check in on your emotional bandwidth and willingness to listen before they start venting to you.

3. Time Boundaries

You can set boundaries to protect how your time is utilized. Time boundaries give you permission to say no when things don’t work for you, Juby says—like declining an invitation to a baby shower for someone you don't know well to make time for something that you find more meaningful or important, like your standing gym date with a close friend.

“This might also look like intentionally not filling up a weekend or time off in order to have enough time to do nothing and rest and recuperate,” Juby adds.

Another way to set time boundaries is to designate a given time to dedicate to certain tasks. You may decide you’re only going to devote two hours to a particular work project, or that you’re going to tell a person who calls you incessantly that you only have a certain amount of time to stay on the phone today, says Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist based in Stamford, Connecticut.

4. Intellectual Boundaries

Intellectual boundaries pertain to protecting your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Having healthy intellectual boundaries with someone you disagree with could look like respectfully listening, stating your perspective, and then agreeing to disagree if needed, Juby says. In some cases, it may also involve having off-limits subjects or changing the subject, as needed.

5. Sexual Boundaries

Sexual boundaries are what you’re comfortable with intimately. They allow for consent and promote respect. For instance, a sexual boundary might include not proceeding with sex until you have a deep connection with the other person, if that’s what you want, Amsellem says. Or, Juby says, it could be that you won’t perform a sexual act that your partner may be interested in because you’re uncomfortable with it.

According to Amsellem, it’s usually best to set and communicate your sexual boundaries with a partner before you’re in the heat of the moment to avoid distress after a boundary has been crossed.

6. Material Boundaries

Material boundaries are meant to help you protect your personal belongings. “This might look like declining when a friend or family member asks to borrow money,” Juby says. For instance, that could be because you don’t have the funds, or maybe that person has a history of borrowing without paying anyone back.

If someone in your life has trouble staying within material boundaries, it can sometimes indicate that they cross other boundaries, too. “[You might think,] ‘This person's always borrowing my car, and this person always seems to walk all over me in a lot of other settings as well.’—it's just a physical manifestation of that,” Amsellem says.

Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries

It’s important to set personal boundaries that aren’t too rigid or too loose to help ensure they’re effective. A boundary should offer structure for personal protection while allowing you to connect with others. “It’s about finding the balance that is right for you,” Amsellem says.

That said, it may feel easier to set boundaries in certain areas over others. For instance, a person might be easily able to set concrete boundaries with their time and resources, but they may struggle to keep emotional boundaries, Juby says. According to Amsellem, setting healthy boundaries is about recognizing what your emotional needs are and what your triggers are in a particular situation. “And it is up to you to establish your boundaries and communicate them,” she adds.

When setting personal boundaries of your own, understand that:

  • It’s okay to start small. You don’t have to set all these boundaries at once or in extreme ways. “I recommend starting small and building upon your successes,” Juby says.
  • It can help to tell others. It’s important to have a good sense of your own personal boundaries. Also letting others in on what they are may mean those boundaries are less likely to be crossed.
  • It may feel uncomfortable at first. Whether it’s due to the reactions from others or your own views on your behavior, you may feel selfish or mean when first starting to set personal boundaries, Juby says. But don’t let that dissuade you from communicating and sticking to the boundaries that help you meet your needs.
  • People may push back. “Our boundaries may not be taken well by others all the time,” Juby says. It may help build your confidence to start setting and communicating your boundaries with safe, supportive people.
  • Practice makes perfect. It can be tough to figure out where to be flexible and when not to be, and that’s all right. “It’s common to set extremely rigid boundaries when first starting to practice boundary-setting, but with practice, we can find the right balance,” Juby says. It’s okay not to get it right the first time.
  • You’ll need to recalibrate as needed. Boundaries are dynamic, Amsellem says, and you can scale them up or scale them back. “They might change as we're growing more comfortable in a relationship.” Conversely, she says, personal boundaries may need to change if somebody or something is demanding too much of your time, things, or energy. “[Boundaries] do require that bit of recalibration over time, depending on the people, the situation, your needs, and your resources, too.”

Despite the time and effort it may take to work toward healthy boundaries, the end result is largely worth it. “Although boundaries can be difficult both to set [on your end] and to accept on the receiving end, they lead to more honesty and authenticity in relationships,” Juby says.

If you find you’re struggling to set or keep healthy boundaries in your life, it may be worth talking to a mental health professional who can help guide you and support you through the process.

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