It 5 pm on a Friday. I hear my Outlook notification go off for a new email. I am tempted to answer it, because it probably won’t take too long, and I want to seem helpful, but in the end, I do not answer it because of boundaries I have established in relation to my workplace. “Boundaries” is a word I had never heard the first several decades of my life, and something I have only begun to take more seriously the past couple of years.  Since figuring out what my boundaries are, my life has become much more peaceful, less emotionally drained, and free from resentment. Boundaries have been great for protecting my mental health.

You might be thinking, “What are boundaries?” One definition of boundaries is “Boundaries are limits people set in order to create a healthy sense of personal space (Good Therapy).” Boundaries keep you physically, and emotionally safe, and so much more. I need to create a healthy sense of personal space between my workplace and my personal life, so I have a boundary of not responding to work emails prior to 9 am or 5 pm during the week nor during the weekends.  Knowing what my boundaries are allow me to say “no” without guilt.  Boundaries with work are just one type of boundary that are important to have. Let’s explore other types of boundaries.

Physical/Sexual Boundaries:  Physical boundaries can be defined as your personal space, privacy, and basic needs.  If you do not like hugs, saying no to hugs is one example of a physical boundary. In intimate relationships, physical boundaries can also include the types of touch, or sexual comments.  “I would prefer it if you do not make comments about my body” or “I would prefer to wait until we are more serious to be more intimate” are examples of a way to express your boundary about your physical space.

Material Boundaries: These are boundaries around possessions, when they can be used and how they are treated. An example of this might be “No, I cannot lend you money right now.” Or “If you are going to use my car, please fill it back up before you give it back to me.”

Time/Energy Boundaries: This is how you manage your time, obligations to yourself, family, work, and other hobbies.  Enforcing this could sound like “I need to have some time to relax before I take you to the mall.”  Or “I would love to be able to attend the PTA event, but I am spending time with my family this weekend.”

Emotional/Intellectual Boundaries:  These boundaries pertain to how willing you are to be vulnerable about certain topics, and/or thoughts and idea you are willing to discuss.  An example of this is “I am not willing to talk about my divorce at this time.” Another one could be “I do not want to talk about politics at the dinner table.”

Setting boundaries can be difficult when you first begin doing it.  It feels awkward to tell people “no” especially when you are a people pleaser, but the more you set boundaries, the easier it becomes to do. Most importantly, when you set a boundary with someone, make you follow-through on it, and not let others manipulate you into changing your mind.  It helps you build self-esteem and feel less like a doormat. So next time someone asks you to do something that you do not want to do, or feel uncomfortable with, take a few moments and see if you can find a way to set a boundary and say no! 

Staff Blogger: Stephanie Reaves, Peer Services Educator

Stephanie grew up in the Philadelphia area and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Princeton University in New Jersey. She is currently a student at Bryn Mawr College earning her Masters in Social Service.

Stephanie enjoys being active in her community, and began volunteering at health fairs and other community events with MHA in 2017 after healing from her own struggles with mental health and substance abuse.

Stephanie officially joined the team as a Peer Educator in 2019. She enjoys hiking, cooking, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She believes in the power of kindness and empathy to make a difference in the lives of others, and is involved in her church community and in various 12-Step programs in the area.