We are social beings and we're programmed to seek other people's interaction, support and belonging. But, we are also individuals, with identities unique from other people. This interpersonal effectiveness exercise involves becoming more aware of the types of the boundaries that exist between us, the boundaries in a particular situation, and making decisions about what boundaries you should have in that situation.

We want to have control over our interpersonal boundaries so that we can let people in and foster and grow the relationships when these relationship are healthy and productive. Similarly, we want to be able to be able to make our boundaries more rigid if we are in situations where it would lead to unhealthy and unproductive outcomes for us.

DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness: Interpersonal Boundaries
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Step One : Types of Boundaries

In this step, we will present several types of interpersonal boundaries. Being informed about these different types is the first step in order to practice them.

-Psychological boundaries means whether or not you share information about yourself, opinions, thoughts and beliefs you have.
­-Emotional boundaries refers to whether or not (or how much) you let other people affect you emotionally, including whether or not you let other people manipulate your emotions (e.g. making you feel happy or guilty)
- Physical boundaries refers to any activity regarding your body, whether or not you let a certain person touch you, including any sexual activity.

Step Two : Being Mindful of the Situation

When you talk with someone, try to become mindful of how much they are sharing, what type of information they are sharing and act accordingly. The idea is that you should choose to open up your boundaries to people who also trust you with theirs. Observing the situation and how the other people interact with you doesn't mean that you should copy them but to follow the energy of the conversation. Always keep in mind that the extent to which you are flexible with your boundaries should be a level that you are comfortable and safe with.

Practicing your boundaries is important because of two reasons:

1) Sometimes you can protect yourself and your self-esteem by exercising stronger boundaries,
2) You can help your relationship grow if you practice more flexible boundaries when the situation is appropriate.

Step Three : Negotiating Boundaries

Now that you are aware of the boundaries in a situation or a relationship, you might want to change the boundary or observe when the other person is trying to change the boundary. This is called negotiating boundaries.

You might want more flexible boundaries, you want to share more information, let the other person affect you emotionally, or move closer to them. You might also want a more rigid boundary, closing off certain topics, creating more emotional distance, or physically distancing yourself.

Boundary negotiations aren’t always explicitly discussed, they often happen when one person attempts to move the boundary and the other person either consents, is passive, or resists.

For example, you might have a parent that starts to feel comfortable voicing suggestions about your choice in girlfriends. You might negotiate the boundary by continuing the discussion by asking questions about their opinion, you might say nothing, or you might redirect the conversation back to another topic.

You should also experiment with explicitly negotiate the boundary. For example, you might want a looser boundary and tell your parent that you value their opinion and you hope that they will keep sharing important observations about new girlfriends. You might want a tighter boundary and tell them that you would rather not discuss your girlfriend with them. Explicitly negotiating the boundary is particularly useful, when the other person doesn’t seem to understand your implicit attempts to change or maintain a boundary.

Think about a recent situation where you negotiated your boundaries. What type of a boundary was the one in question? What was the situation like? In what way did you negotiate your boundary? What was the result of the negotiation ?

First look at the example below, then take your time and write down your answers in the worksheet.

Situation: Me and my partner are having dinner some of his old friends. He wants me to be more extrovert and social than I usually am, because he wants me to have a good time and feel comfortable with them.
Type of boundary in question : Psychological
Negotiating : I am usually shy with new people and am not comfortable sharing things about myself with new people. But, I do want to be part of his social circle. I agreed to try to be less reserved and will try to share things about me and ask questions about them. But, I don’t like it when he shares problems in our relationship with people that I am not yet comfortable with, and I make sure we are on the same page about this before we go out.
Result: I feel like I navigated the situation well, because I agreed on some flexibility but also I retained the level of me feeling comfortable in my own skin.

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Are these the only boundaries that exist ?

There are lots of types of relationship boundaries that you can maintain with other people. You might want to maintain boundaries about topics you discuss, religion, or money.

When it comes to negotiating my boundaries, I automatically feel a little uncomfortable.

Making your boundaries stronger or more flexible are aimed at making both you and the relationship will benefit. But, to get this progress there is often some short term, discomfort.

For example, for people with rigid boundaries it can be uncomfortable to take risks, be vulnerable and let someone inside. And for people who are used to flexible boundaries, it can be uncomfortable setting firm boundaries when someone is trying to get inside.

How do I know that I am practicing my boundaries in a way that is right both for me and the relationship?

When you are unsure, it is always best to "consult" your wise mind. Take both the facts and your emotions into account and to what feels right to you. Follow your intuition and think about whether the potential result from negotiating your boundaries would be something beneficial for you. If the concept of boundaries is new to you, at first you might need a little time to practice it.

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If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Comments About Interpersonal Boundaries

  1. No one can ‘make’ another person feel guilty or happy as this page suggests under types of boundaries. Boundaries are made for cattle, not people. It’s about having respect for oneself so that when other people cross us, that we as individuals, know not to enter the games they play.

  2. Thank you for this resource on interpersonal boundaries! I struggle with enmeshment and will use the worksheet for insight.

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