Defining Self-Boundaries – Types of Boundaries (Part 3)


This final post of the 3-part series on boundaries will provide you with definitions for different types of boundaries. It is important to know these differences; doing so allows you to self-appraise how you maintain your sense of self with others. Research mostly focuses on three general types of boundaries: rigid, diffuse, and flexible. 

Let’s imagine boundaries as a wall you build up to protect yourself. They can be defined by the following:

Rigid – Walls are very high up, thick, and do not come down

Diffuse – Walls are very low, foggy, and confusing

Flexible: Walls are clear, go down and go up (to different levels) as needed.  

Rigid Boundaries: We might feel protected (especially if we have been through any type of trauma) when we set a rigid boundary without sharing more intimately about our feelings and needs. However, we are closed off to the other when we set a fixed limit — meaning that it’s difficult or nearly impossible for us to connect to others and to have others get close to us (emotionally, physically, etc.). This type of boundary makes it hard for others to understand our feelings and needs as little of ourselves is shared. We also may not be flexible enough to respond to the demands of others. 

Diffuse Boundaries: When we have diffuse boundaries, we might have difficulties communicating and/or understanding our boundaries (maybe from how you were raised, difficult experiences with limits). With diffuse boundaries, our borders are foggy, unclear, and are not defined. This particular boundary is difficult in relationships because you most likely tend to internalize other people’s emotions or let intrusive arrows (see the second blog in this 3-part series) right into your inner world. It often leads to feelings of resentment, frustration, shame, or sadness (etc.). 

Flexible Boundaries: When we have flexible boundaries, we can easily adapt to different situations in our relationships with others. Our boundaries are clear, healthy, and reflect our needs, desires, emotions, and values. We also maintain some openness to the other’s reality, thoughts, feelings, and needs. This creates a space in our relationships where it’s safe to discuss our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires and listen to the other and make adjustments to fulfill both parties. It also creates respect within your relationship and brings you closer together. Lastly, flexible boundaries prevent you from feeling overwhelmed or building up resentment, all while letting other people in, creating a secure attachment, and fulfilling your needs. 

We must establish a boundary to get to know who we are and what we need in our relationships to maintain a sense of safety and security and a sense of value and worth. Flexible boundaries might be ideal in relationships.

Mélodie Brown, B.A., is a therapist and completing a clinical psychology doctorate (D.Psy). At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, she provides psychological services to adults and couples under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. In the last year of her clinical psychology doctorate, Mélodie has completed all of her clinical training. She is in the process of finishing her thesis before receiving her licence as a clinical psychologist. 

Defining Self-Boundaries – When Is It Okay to Assert My Boundary?

After reading Part 1 and getting familiarized with boundaries and the difficulties we often face while setting them, you are probably wondering when or in what situations is it okay to set a limit in your interpersonal relationships?

The answer is: A boundary is set in our relationships with others to establish a felt sense of internal safety and security or maintain our sense of self-value and worth. We assert a boundary with another person to ensure we do not experience excessively high levels of negative emotional distress based on what others say, do, or express to us.

The model below has been devised to help you think about when it might be okay to set boundaries for yourself in everyday life. See model down below:

When you, your partner, or children receive an intrusive arrow (something that makes you feel bad—can be threats, insults, shaming, pressure, etc.) from anyone in circles 2, 3 & 4, it’s absolutely okay and healthy to put up a boundary to protect yourself, your partner or your child.

It’s also important to remember that in circle 1, each person is also a separate individual with their respective thoughts, opinions, feelings, emotions, wants, needs, values, and desires. Every individual can benefit from knowing this information as it’s the basis for setting a boundary. In terms of the diagram below, an individual has to establish a boundary with each member of their family and those relationships in the outer circle.

Remember that boundaries set with respect & authenticity are a way to protect yourself and your mental health. When you don’t set boundaries, you can be overwhelmed with stress and negative emotions that can lead to difficulties in your relationships. We become overwhelmed when we don’t listen to our feelings and bodies and set boundaries to protect ourselves from going into a space that is too much for us physically or psychologically. By setting boundaries, you also help yourself & the relationships around you grow. You and others learn more about who you are and how to relate to each other, and you are capable of being more invested and present for your romantic partners and other relationships.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Types of Boundaries.

Mélodie Brown, B.A., is a therapist and completing a clinical psychology doctorate (D.Psy). At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, she provides psychological services to adults and couples under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.. In the last year of her clinical psychology doctorate, Mélodie has completed all of her clinical training. She is in the process of finishing her thesis before receiving her license as a clinical psychologist.

Defining Self-Boundaries – What are Boundaries? (Part 1)

Boundaries are essential for interpersonal relationships. In my clinical practice, I often encounter individuals struggling to define their self-boundary, maintain a ‘couple’ boundary, or manage the complexities of different dyadic boundaries in a family system. In this 3-part series of blogs, I will be sharing with you a definition of what boundaries are (Part I), how to consider boundaries within the context of your life (Part II), and the different types of boundaries (Part III).

In this first part, let’s talk about what boundaries are, and the difficulties individuals often face when setting them. The act of setting a boundary can be defined by putting clear, healthy & respectful limits with others to ensure that your feelings, needs, emotions, and self is expressed and understood by others. You probably think that this sounds like a healthy thing to do to maintain good mental health, right? Interestingly enough, boundaries seem to have gained a negative connotation over the years. Many individuals feel guilty, ashamed, selfish, or anxious when trying to set a boundary or are preoccupied with being seen as controlling or uncaring when choosing to set a boundary—even if done in a respectful and wholesome way. For this reason, a lot of people don’t set limits and find themselves overwhelmed and flooded with difficulties in their relationships and with their mental health.

As a result of a lack of clarity about boundaries, many individuals I see in my private practice struggle to create greater clarity about what it is that their true ‘self’ thinks, feels, wants, needs, values, and desires. They also struggle to resolve doubts about the appropriateness of the boundaries they have set. You might want to consider the following questions to ascertain whether you are having difficulties identifying your boundaries and limits and setting appropriate boundaries for yourself.

Have you ever found yourself asking:
• Is it okay to put a boundary up with my partner, my friends, or family?
• Is my partner controlling if he or she puts up a boundary with me?
• Do I set a boundary if my sister said something hurtful to my partner?
• Is it acceptable to set a boundary with my parents?
• Am I a bad partner or friend for setting boundaries?
• Am I a bad friend or partner for saying no to something that doesn’t make me feel good?
• Etc.

In the second blog in this 3-part series on boundaries, I will provide you with a framework to consider in resolving struggles you may be having with boundaries in your life.

Mélodie Brown, B.A., is a therapist and completing a clinical psychology doctorate (D.Psy). At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, she provides psychological services to adults and couples under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.. In the last year of her clinical psychology doctorate, Mélodie has completed all of her clinical training. She is in the process of finishing her thesis before receiving her license as a clinical psychologist.

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