Particularly with clients new to counseling, I find that the discussion of boundaries is a foreign concept and I can understand why. Emotional boundaries can be confusing and change from situation to situation. Webster’s defines ‘boundary’ as: That which indicates or fixes a limit or extent, or marks a bound, as of a territory: a bounding or separating line; a real or imaginary limit.
Around our homes, we build fences, a clear boundary between our home/property and the neighbors, cubicles in offices define workspaces, and countries build barriers and place checkpoints at their boarders. Each of these is a clear boundary, emotional boundaries not nearly as clear-cut or easily defined.
The unspoken behavioral expectations that we have culturally, as a family and as individuals, these are far more difficult to understand because they can change from person to person and situation to situation. For example, if I were riding the city bus and all of the other seats on the bus were empty, it would be odd (perhaps even uncomfortable) for a stranger to come sit in the seat right next to me, even though there are no rules against it. However, if the only available seat were right next to me, it would probably not be given a second thought.
Emotional boundaries are the emotional rules of engagement that you take with you to each interaction with other people. Both have roots in cultural norms but can be highly impacted by personal experiences. A healthy approach to boundaries includes paying attention to both how you feel as well as how your behavior may impact another person. It is important to remember that you cannot make a person feel a certain way nor can they make you feel a certain way. Further you have the right to remove yourself from situations that feel emotionally unsafe or destructive.