Back to Boundaries

Different Categories – Different Strategies
They’re all still Boundaries

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Boundaries & Coaching Series

Moving on with the Boundary Series

In the prior post, The Benefits of Boundaries, I likened setting Personal Boundaries to having a moat with a drawbridge around your castle.

Raising and lowering the drawbridge helps to ensure (enforce) the kinds of behavior that you will and will not permit yourself to experience in your environment.

The “moat and drawbridge” of Personal Boundaries acts as a filter to permit only those people who are up to where you are in life to come into your castle and join the party.

Setting your boundaries defines the actions and behaviors that are unacceptable from those you do allow inside your metaphorical castle — in coordination with your Standards, which also determine how you will interact with them.

Different types of Boundaries

Dolly, the author of the wonderful koolkosherkitchen blog, left a comment under the prior Boundary post that led me to decide that, before I continue, I need to further define what I mean by the terms I will be using in the ongoing Boundary conversation.

In addition to Boundaries we set around behaviors of others, there are boundaries we need to have in place that determine our personal behaviors, sometimes referred to as “self-control.”

Boundaries can be further divided into several “domains” —
physical, intellectual, social and emotional.

While there is certainly overlap in some of these categories, let’s take a look at distinguishing these “types” from one another.

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Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries define your sense of personal space. They are often discussed in the domain of sexual and touching behaviors, as well as intrusions upon privacy and focus, but there is a great deal more involved in this category.

Young children frequently cross physical boundaries, biting, hitting, kicking and grabbing the toys of others, for example, until they are taught not to.

Some adults never generalized those lesson from childhood – or were raised by parents who had little understanding of the concept of physical boundaries themselves.  They frequently grow up to be individuals from whom those of us who have developed relatively healthy physical boundary awareness need protection.

Examples of missing physical boundaries that need work (even in some of us who are fairly aware otherwise):

  • Touching: unwanted sexual advances certainly, but also unwelcomed “friendly” touches and hugs that some of us believe are simply “how we relate.”
  • Encroaching: respecting personal space requirements – often culturally based.  When we are speaking with someone and he or she backs off, for example, we’ve probably crossed their “personal space-comfort” boundary.  When we close the gap, we’ve done it again.

I once watched an American businessman back a Japanese colleague all the way across a room, totally unaware of what he was doing.

Other examples of unconscious encroachments include using someone else’s desk or fountain pen without permission, or assuming a “mi casa, su casa” environment that has never been expressed.

  • Barging in: intruding on physical surroundings — for example, entering your daughter’s bedroom without knocking, or a habit of dropping in on a co-worker’s office whenever we are at a stopping point and in need of a break.
  • Interrupting or distracting: Cutting people off as they are speaking to voice a thought of our own, finishing their sentences, changing the subject mid-discussion, and so on — but also including requests or demands for time and attention when someone is obviously busy cooking, working on the car, writing, etc.
  • Snooping: invading the privacy of personal files, diaries, emails, phone calls and messages, internet histories, bureau drawers, medicine cabinets, etc. — privacy boundaries some adults are more likely to cross with their children or partners.

IMPORTANT POINT: What you will discover is that when you cross the physical boundaries of others — regardless of what you tell yourself about why it is okay for you to do so — it becomes all that much more difficult to set healthy, effective boundaries around similar encroachments from others.

Another type of Boundary Protection

Reflecting on her former role as an educator of children with “special needs,” Dolly also left a comment under the introduction to the Boundary Series that brings up another point about the importance of learning to adopt physical boundaries:

“As an example: an ASD child [autism spectrum] would wiggle himself between me and his mother as we were talking because he was fascinated by bluetooth blinking on my chest (I wear it on a chain, like a pendant).

The problem was, of course, that he would do the same to some students who had different issues and could not abide violation of personal space. Obviously, it would result in a “Wham!” Teaching this child boundaries protected him for life.

This is an extreme example of physical lack of boundaries that is visible. Social boundaries are just as vital to a person’s survival, albeit not visible.”

I won’t be focusing on setting boundaries of this type in this Series, but I felt it was an excellent illustration of the many ways that boundaries protect us.

Intellectual Boundaries

Intellectual boundaries protect our right to our own thoughts and opinions (including our right not to have to defend them or disclose them), our entitlement to determine where it is appropriate for us to spend our time, setting our own priorities, as well as our right to learn and develop in our own best manner.

A few intellectual boundary crossings include the following:

  • Anyone who attempts to shame, bully or worry us into agreeing with their thinking (political and religious arguments are rife with this one!)
  • Plagiarism, failure to attribute, claiming the work ideas of another as our own.
  • Insisting that our children study in the same way it worked best for us.

People who chronically cross intellectual boundaries are generally considered annoying, if not actually rude — and are sometimes doing things that are actually illegal! They are always inconsiderate, stepping over the rights of others in an attempt to commandeer their desires, or to make things more comfortable in their own lives.

It rarely serves them, ultimately, and makes it almost impossible for them to set boundaries that don’t devolve into arguments when others violate their intellectual boundaries.

Social Boundaries

These are boundaries set by social convention, which can be different from country to country.  These can include adherence to laws as well as what we often refer to as manners — items my good friend Cindi tosses into the bin of “social lubricants.”

  • Observing the “niceties” — please, thank you, excuse me, opening doors for others, etc.
  • “Manners” – Etiquette and table manners, of course, but also “polite” behavior in general: appropriate dress in certain situations, refraining from or engaging in certain behaviors in public (for example, not belching or, in some cultures, belching to show appreciation for a meal), paying attention when we speak with others vs. allowing a cellphone bleep to jump ahead in the time and focus line, and more.
  • Obeying the “rules of the road” — including a conservative use of the horn, passing on the accepted side of the road, and maintaining a respectful distance between our car and the one in front of us (vs. “crowding” them when we want to drive faster than they are going), etc.
  • Social conventions like shaking a hand offered in friendship or introduction, speaking respectfully to our elders or bosses, etc.
  • Respecting public and private property – putting trash in appropriate receptacles, keeping your animals off your neighbors lawns and out of their gardens and always cleaning up after your dogs, etc.

Whenever we fail to observe expected social conventions we run the risk of violating someone else’s social boundaries. Few people will feel entitled to express those boundaries, but it doesn’t make us very popular when we cross them!

Emotional Boundaries

The ability to separate our own desires and feelings from those of anyone else keeps us from being overly affected by their wishes and behaviors, so that we don’t end up feeling confused, frustrated, or angry.

The presence or absence of our ability or willingness to express these boundaries without defensiveness or anger is often described as high or low “self-esteem.”

A few indications of missing emotional boundaries:

  • Emotional bleeding: Not understanding how to separate our feelings from our children’s or our partner’s or our parents’, allowing their mood to spill over to determine our level of happiness or misery — including holding them responsible for how we feel (sometimes referred to as codependency).
  • The blame game: Blaming others for our problems and poor decisions, rather than taking “ownership” of our choices and our actions, setting effective boundaries around behavior that frequently tempts us to believe that someone else “made” us react as we did.
  • Sacrificial Lambs: Abandoning or diluting portions of our life to please someone else – frequently changing our plans, giving up on our dreams, or limiting our goals in response to the wishes of another.
  • Over/under-sharing: sharing intimate personal information and feelings with relative strangers – before there has been time to develop a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship.  Conversely, refusing to “open up” in intimate relationships.

Boundary Management

We really don’t want our own personal boundaries trampled, and few of us are fully aware of those times when we are trespassing ourselves. But why do we do it? Why do they? And why do we frequently find it difficult to set, enforce or maintain personal boundaries?

We’ll explore these questions as well as looking at some effective ways to set and maintain boundaries in the upcoming articles of this Series, so STAY TUNED.

Becoming Aware

Awareness is always the first step in the change and growth game, and so it is with establishing healthy boundaries and developing the habit of maintaining them.

  • Look back through the examples above and think about the areas in your life where some boundary work might give you greater life-satisfaction.
  • Remember, as you look, to give yourself a pat on the back for the healthy boundaries you have already developed – and share your success stories below.

I want to remind everyone that, once you’ve internalized the Boundary process, at some point your Boundaries will become practically automatic.  You will rarely need to enforce them and you will stop attracting Boundary pushers and disrespectful people and treatment.

That’s ideal, of course — to stop attracting certain types of people and behaviors to begin with!

While we are working on that particular state of being, understanding how to set effective Boundaries and taking the actions to set them in place is a great way to course-correct as quickly as possible.

As we become willing to express our Values in how we live our lives and truly honor our Standards — setting Personal Boundaries that don’t allow the actions of others to affirm otherwise — we’ve set our personal development on the fast track and our former frustrations are on the way to transformation.

Then life gets really fun!

If you are interested in your own personalized “boundary bootcamp,” I currently have several openings in my coaching schedule.

Get in touch if you would like to hire me to personally coach you
through the entire Personal Foundation process in a you-specific fashion.

I’d LOVE to partner with you — and celebrate with you as you watch your experience of life get better and better.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

81 Responses to Back to Boundaries

  1. Pingback: D.G. Kaye on growing self-esteem | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Aquileana says:

    An excellent, enlightening post Madelyn… Intellectual boundaries are certainly important… Knowing what is fair and unfair, good and right is the most importat thing to do when setting up boundaries. People might change, and we all have our stories, obviously…

    But, the question is what happens when those invisible, implicit boundaries seem to no longer exist (in a relationship). It could be hard, for sure…

    I wanted to ask you some advice: Do you think that if a relationship (let´s say a friendship) went through a sort of big fallout and not too much was said by then …

    I should clarify things (meaning those boundaries that were not respected … and my opinions, or it is better to just avoid more conflict and just forget it. I feel I am still clinging to it, by the way, probably because there was no closure of any kind and everything was unexpected)

    Thank you for sharing!. This was useful to me .,.. xx 😀
    mgh added white space (double returns between paragraphs) to help with readability for those who struggle with longer strings of text; words unchanged

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Aquileana. I’m glad to read that you found it useful. NOW, about your question:

      It’s a difficult one upon which to comment without knowing the history. Was this a one off situation that suddenly got out of hand or an escalation of a chronic behavior that finally became too much, for example. Do you truly value and miss this person and your relationship or is your main concern the lack of closure?

      If it is the latter, my advice would be to let it go and find another way to make peace with what happened without subjecting yourself to possibly more of the same. If there is much to value in the relationship otherwise, it might be worth the risk – as long as your friend is willing to hear you out, apologize sincerely, and take steps to be more considerate in the future.

      (Light grey link above and in this sentence is to an earlier article: Relationship Repair when Apologies are Due.)

      The main thing, either way, is to hold firmly in your mind that sticking up for yourself, your opinions and your boundaries does not necessarily mean “conflict.” I have had ongoing disagreements with several colleagues that were simply that – we each wanted the other to agree with our points of view, but mostly we wanted the other to understand them. We didn’t agree, and probably never would, but boundaries were never crossed by either of us. There are others I simply avoid, without making it obvious that I do so, I hope.

      I also stopped speaking with a [several decades younger] friend for several months because he behaved as if he believe that as long as he uttered the words, “I apologize” that was the end of it and all that was required, as he continued to do whatever he cared to do in the moment regardless of its impact on me. After some time where I refused to connect with him I took his call again, and he finally LISTENED. He’s still young and not perfect, but he catches himself now and is improving, so that relationship was clearly worth salvaging.

      I hope that helps somewhat. I’m honored you think well enough of me to ask my opinion — and I want to remind you that it is simply that. MY opinion. Trust your gut.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aquileana says:

        Thanks so much for the thorough and accurate reply, dear Madelyn…. Well, looking back at it, I´d say it was a a situation that suddenly got out of hand, but it became too much… Plus… it was completely out of the blue (at least for me… I didn´t see it coming!).

        The person seemed to act in survival mode, or maybe in “passive aggressive” mode.

        I agree with you as to what the word “conflict” might mean… In fact I believe that disagreements are part of any healthy relationship.

        Given the situation and keeping your words in mind, I´ll stick up to what you say in first place. Meaning to try to avoid more issues at least for now …. and to try to find peace and comfort in other ways (probably within myself). I value the person, truly do. But to be honest I am not exactly sure if trying to reach out would be a good idea.

        I saw you have once posted about impulsivity and anger, and how to manage them. I think this could have been a main thing in this case.

        Your help is highly appreciated. I am very grateful!. All the best to you 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • My pleasure – and thanks for letting me know how my last comment landed with you. The toughest thing about somebody else’s impulsivity and anger is that it is soooo hard not to get hooked, which almost always makes things worse (yet WE seem to be the only ones who feel bad about it).

          Kudos for your “at least for now” approach. Things may look entirely different eventually – especially if your friend reaches out to apologize and mend fences. Until that person is ready, it’s likely that your attempts to reconnect might fan the flame.

          My sympathies. It’s so discombobulating when a person you thought would always be your friend suddenly turns on you. It has happened in my life too – and it sucks! I adhere to the old saying, “Once bitten, twice shy.”

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: August 26th is National Dog Day | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Great overview synopsis of the different types of boundaries. Love the statement, “awareness is always the first step in the change and growth game, and so it is with establishing healthy boundaries and developing the habit of maintaining them.”. Such an important point!!! Efforts need to be made in setting up this baseline upon which to grow. Liked the comment by “dgkaye”. Such a worthwhile topic and one that should be discussed often and with everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dgkaye says:

    Loved this, and the breakdown of different types of boundaries. Surely, there are lots of people who should be reading this, especially when it comes to ‘rules of the road’, lol.:) xo

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Christy B says:

    I’m so glad Dolly suggested to you to define the terms! Yes, there are many boundaries and you know what the term physical boundaries always makes me think of the “close talker” episode of the TV show Seinfeld 😉 I like physical space and don’t invade it, please. As for intellectual boundaries, I am reminded of a friend who believes his way of looking at things is right and that I’ve got “it wrong” ~ I ought to show him this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very interesting post. I believe I must have been fortunate and received good instruction in this concept of creating and respecting boundaries while growing up. I haven’t often crossed them and only occasionally have to deal with others crossing boundaries I set.

    It is an interesting subject and could be extremely important for many people. I wish you success in this. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for quoting me.I’d like to add to your excellent article a reference to Edward Hall’s work, specifically his “Beyond Culture” series of studies. While intellectual and emotional boundaries are more or less common across cultures, social and physical ones differ greatly. You do touch upon cultural distinctions somewhat, but in my experience, in today’s workplace and personal relationships cultural expectations of boundaries play an important role.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a thought provoking post Madelyn. I think it is essential reading for so many of us. I look forward to the next instalment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. The feedback has been especially interesting to me. A few seem to wonder why it’s worth mentioning boundary management at all, while others are thrilled to be able to place a “name” to a few challenges. Like I always say, “Different strokes . . .” I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.


  10. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie continues her series on setting personal boundaries so that we may live well both for ourselves and for others. Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jodie says:

    Where you listening into our conversation last night?? I’ve been having trouble creating some boundaries with working lately…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jodie – great to hear from you! Of course I was listening – I tap into the government’s surveillance network on the i-net – lol 🙂

      I’m guessing that the work side of your seesaw is getting more “weight” than home side? That’s my biggest challenge, in any case.

      People who aren’t so fond of what they do can’t WAIT to run away from work. Those of us who enjoy our work sometimes have the opposite problem – even when we love what we’d be setting aside work FOR more. And when we work for ourselves it’s hard to keep regular “hours” – and that makes it even more difficult.

      Once you get your new boundaries working come back and share with me. I can use some help there too!


  12. -Eugenia says:

    While boundaries have a purpose, the misuse is a spoiler. Plus across different cultures, boundaries vary. We must learn to respect the reason for boundaries and not abuse their purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Lucy Brazier says:

    I love your posts as more often than not I come away learning a little more about myself, and others. Outside of my ‘inner circle’ (family and a few close friends) I am SO tetchy about boundaries. I get irritated if someone touches my stuff (I know this is silly, so I make every effort to overcome this) and I don’t like strangers randomly chatting as if we were friends. I am an introvert, in many respects. But reading this has made me realise that some very irritating behaviours in people I know are really down to their boundary issues and not entirely because they are selfish and ignorant! I shall deal with them with much more understanding from now on. Further to Robbie’s comment, I had the same thing happen when I was in China – people would just come over and stroke my hair and skin, which is very fair. It was strange at first but I understood their fascination!


    • Odd how different people are across cultures, huh? Interesting to me (but not surprising) that you took the info to help you be more understanding of folks who cross your personal boundaries. Even though it will no doubt remain annoying, I’ll bet it will be far easier to let it go — especially when you don’t have to interact with those folks repeatedly.

      Just read your recent Poirot, btw – oooooh it’s getting so gooood!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lucy Brazier says:

        Whenever I get irritated by people (which is more often than I’d like to admit!) I do always try to think ‘why would this person behave like that?’ Whilst there are a few people around who behave purely to annoy others, for the most part people are oblivious to the effects their words and actions might have. There’s little point getting cross with absolutely everybody, so I try my best to understand.
        Glad you are enjoying the Poirot – I’m loving it too, but I probably shouldn’t say that about my own story!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Why NOT, Lucy? If you don’t enjoy your own writing, why on earth would you think it would appeal to anyone else? It just might be the *first* thing to say about your own story!!!

          I would expect you to get twice the enjoyment, actually – once as you work it all out, and yet again when you’ve let your creativity loose to figure out a clever way to let US in on the fun.

          If I were to write fiction (assuming, of course I’d be as talented at it as you are), I’m sure I would sit in my office like the Cheshire Cat – grinning all the time.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree then life gets really fun ;o) I will print it for tomorrow when I have to talk with my insurance… before they say something they should read… Iand my plan B ist a margarita for me… or two :O)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Someone should send a link of your article to government intelligence agencies and the local police who use electronic harassment to gang stalk the personal privacy of American citizens. It seems if anyone needs a lesson on boundaries it is they.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Mr. Militant Negro says:

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. A great post, Madelyn and you have bifurcated the boundaries so well, it was very easy to read and understand how these boundaries are sometimes good and sometimes not so good. One needs to keep boundaries in life but there has not be a kind of rigidity in them too. Social, Economic, how to live your life all these are so well written and your words are so inspiring to any generation. Thanks for the awesome share.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This is a really fascinating post. As I was reading it I could apply some of these thoughts to my own life especially living in a country with a plethora of different cultures. Personal space is definitely something that differs with cultures. When I went to South Korea, many years ago, I got very upset because everyone would touch my hair (which is fairly blonde).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Robbie. I’m sure S. Koreans were fascinated by your hair, since they are a land of dark haired beauties almost exclusively.

      Pregnant woman have often reported that people from other cultures pat their bellies (or rub them) for good luck.

      When one is from a culture that is less physically “free” it can feel very intrusive indeed! I wouldn’t like it personally.

      Liked by 1 person

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