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  • Writer's pictureOlive Von Topp

What are boundaries & why do you need them?

The importance of boundaries might seem obvious, but to many of us, they aren’t. Or we know we should have them but we just can’t seem to set them. While I have a whole course designed to help you set and maintain boundaries, I’d like to offer some thoughts on why we need them.

What are boundaries?

I like to think of my boundaries as the space where I end and someone else begins. As a way of telling people how I want to be in relationship with them. As a way of getting my needs met. As a guidebook for what I find acceptable and unacceptable.

They are individual to everyone, different with different people, and can change over time.

Generally they are categorized into six categories:

1. Physical

Physical boundaries are your needs related to your body including personal space & touch, rest, eating, etc. Some examples of physical boundaries are:

  • “Please don’t clean my room without my permission”

  • “I’m hungry and need to eat”

  • “Don’t touch me”

  • “I can’t come over, I’m too tired.”

2. Intellectual

Intellectual boundaries are your thoughts and ideas. Healthy intellectual boundaries include expecting your ideas to be respected and respecting the ideas of others and calling out harmful ideologies. Some examples are:

  • “I don’t want to talk to you about this anymore. I don’t feel like you respect my ideas”

  • “I can appreciate that we have different opinions on this”

  • “If you say racist things, you will be asked to leave my home”

3. Emotional

Emotional boundaries are your needs related to your feelings. They are about honoring yours and others’ feelings and emotional capacity or energy. Some examples are:

  • “I’m sorry but I don’t have capacity to hear about that right now. Can I check in with you tomorrow?”

  • “When I tell you about how I’m feeling, I would like you to just listen, rather than offer advice”

  • “I’m having a hard time, is now a good time to talk?”

4. Sexual

Sexual boundaries are what we are okay with and not okay with as it related to sex/sexual acts. They can include things like consent, likes and dislikes, desires, and privacy. Some examples might include:

  • “I don’t feel like that tonight, can we do ____ instead?”

  • “I’m not feeling this, let’s stop”

  • “I’d really like it if you did ____. Is that something you’d be open to?”

5. Material

Not surprisingly, material boundaries refer to our needs and preferences as they relate to material things like possessions and money. They might look like:

  • “I don’t lend out money”

  • “You can borrow my car, but please return it with gas in it”

  • “If you break my _____, I’d like you to replace it”

6. Time

Time boundaries are an area many of us struggle. They are related to how we want to spend our time/what our capacity is in terms of time. They can look like:

  • “I’d love to come, but I can only stay until 9pm”

  • “I can’t take on that assignment, I already have too much work to do”

  • “I don’t have time right now. I’ll get back to you if things open up”

Why do you need boundaries?

Having poor boundaries can lead to resentment, stress, anxiety, depression, overwhelm and even sickness. It can soil our relationships and can get in the way of achieving our goals. Here’s a few ways that having better boundaries can improve our lives:


Our relationships often improve when we set boundaries. This is because we make our needs and expectations known to others, rather than expecting them to guess or “just know”. Most often people are happy to try and meet your needs and appreciate knowing how you want to be treated. It also allows them to state their boundaries and get their needs met.

When we don’t have ‘good’ boundaries, when we always say “yes” or overextend ourselves, we may often feel resentful towards people for the things we do for them, even though it’s up to us to manage and communicate our boundaries. When we set and honour our own boundaries, we do things because we want to/are able, which helps eliminate our resentment.


Having boundaries gives us more space in our lives for the things that bring us joy and pleasure. When we get clear on our boundaries, we are able to prioritize what’s really important to us and what gives us life.

Boundaries help us feel more fulfilled, because we are able to get our needs met.

The emotional energy we may have been expending on our poor boundaries or on continually dealing with boundary transgressions, can be used in other areas of our lives. Getting clear on our time boundaries and not overcommitting ourselves can free up all kinds of time for more of the things we love in our lives.

Our Best Selves

Similarly, having better boundaries allows us to prioritize our own self care. When we are able to take care of ourselves and refill our cup, we are able to show up differently in our lives. We can show up with more energy, enthusiasm and joy, all of which can help us be better parents, partners, employees, bosses, caregivers, etc. Also, when we honour our boundaries with ourselves, we are able to build more self-trust, which leads to the confidence to go after our goals.

This certainly isn’t exhaustive. If this all sounds new to you, don’t worry. Many of us weren’t really modelled great boundaries.

If you’re looking to learn more about boundaries, your specific boundaries and how to set and maintain them, my free workshop, "Finding Your No" is a fantastic start.

Whatever you do, know that you are allowed to have needs and deserve to have boundaries. Having boundaries will improve your life, hands down. So if you’re looking for more energy, joy, or pleasure, getting better at boundaries might be just the place to start.


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