4 Essential Types of Personal Boundaries

Is carving out time to write a perpetual problem for you?

If so, there’s a good chance that it has something to do with the boundary busters in your life.

Writers tend to be more sensitive creative types. That makes it possible for us to write from the heart, to create characters that readers care about, and write with impact.

This creative sensitivity comes with a down side. Because we are sensitive, caring people, we often say “yes” when we should say “no.” We draw a line in the sand, but say nothing when people step right over it.

Four Types of Boundaries

In Why Writers Need Boundaries I pointed out that in order to write—and just to be healthy individuals—we need both inner and outer boundaries. We need physical boundaries (outer). We also need three kinds of inner boundaries: mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Why? Because if you want to write, all these areas need protecting.

Don’t get me wrong. The whole world isn’t out to get you or rob you of all your writing time. You won’t need to become a cactus or porcupine, so prickly that others give you a wide berth.

With many people, you can relax your boundaries until you’re barely aware of them. Safe people can come and go in your life, and you happily give them access to your thoughts and emotions and living space.

However, for many reasons (both conscious and unconscious), certain people are unsafe. Such people threaten your equilibrium. They steal your time, your space, your peace of mind, your emotional stability, and your joyful spirit. They are thieves. They need to be kept outside the walls of the city.

Boundary Types Defined

(1) Physical boundaries are the easiest to see and define. They are property lines: my office, my desk, my locked car, my computer with password protection, money in my bank account, and my body. We draw physical boundaries around our writing space and writing time like someone putting a white picket fence around her cottage. It marks the difference between what is yours, and what is mine.

All those physical boundaries are easy to see because they’re external. Internal boundaries are invisible though. They are harder to define, but just as important. And if you don’t rebuild crumbled internal boundaries, it won’t matter to your writing career how rigid your physical boundaries are.

(2) Mental boundaries have to do with our thoughts. For writers, intact mental boundaries are critical. It’s what enables us to think our own thoughts and form our own opinions. It’s what gives us the capacity to create, to pull words out of thin air. These boundaries also enable us to reject thoughts and opinions being forced on us that are contrary to our belief system.

When you are talking to another person with intact mental boundaries, you can share opinions back and forth and have great discussions. No one feels forced to agree with the other person. No one is told their ideas are silly or stupid. However, there are forceful people who aren’t content to simply share ideas, or have a meeting of the minds. Instead, they (overtly or covertly) demand that you agree with them. They don’t even like it if you “agree to disagree.”

(3) Emotional boundaries allow us to have our own feelings. Healthy emotional boundaries serve two very good purposes. They keep us from imposing our emotions on other people, dumping endlessly on anyone who will listen to us (and then regretting it later). Emotional boundaries help us handle our feelings in appropriate ways.

Emotional boundaries also keep us from taking on the emotions of others who are spewing their emotional garbage. And for writers trying to carve out writing time, emotional boundaries are what protect us from being manipulated by others through guilt and shame and fear. They help us not take on responsibility for someone else’s emotions. It does no good to lock your writing door for two hours if you’re psychologically shattered from absorbing someone else’s emotional junk.

You have a right to your feelings, and you get to decide if they are appropriate or not. No one else gets to decide that for you. Each person is responsible for handling his/her own feelings. Emotional boundaries help prevent us from taking on issues that belong to someone else to solve.

(4) Spiritual boundaries define our beliefs about God and our place in the scheme of life. When our spiritual boundaries are damaged, we unconsciously compete with God for power or (with the best of intentions) try to play God in the lives of others.

Spiritual boundaries allow us to define our own relationship with God, even when others try to impose their beliefs on us. Others may try to tell you what to do with your gift of words. With healthy spiritual boundaries, you are free to define and explore your calling, your gifts and your talents. Someone else doesn’t get to define that for you.

What’s a Healthy Boundary?

If the four types of boundaries are new to you, you may wonder just how to recognize them in your life—and how to know if your boundaries need repair.

That will be the subject of the next blog post: identifying unhealthy boundary issues. Some of us just need minor repairs in the walls. Others of us have healthy boundaries in two areas, but the other two have collapsed. Some of us didn’t even know we were allowed to have boundaries.

Next time we’ll explore how to identify healthy and unhealthy boundaries for writers. Do you already have an inkling about the type(s) of boundaries you need to work on? Please leave a comment!

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8 Responses to 4 Essential Types of Personal Boundaries

  1. Yes– I have two very opinionated people in my life (the dominating you-must-agree-with-me types) who are also not artistic– to the point of one of them saying to me once “I don’t GET art. I don’t get the point.” (we were talking about the concept of ART, not just visual art). They say they support my writing, but they don’t GET it, to the point that I never feel ALLOWED my time to myself– they also believe that writing is something I can just breeze through, and then all I need is a contact in the industry and I’ll be making a living on it (“I have a friend who has had some books published, why don’t you talk to them?” “Um, I’m online friends with several people who are MUCH deeper in the industry than that, and, um, it DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY.”) I’m not sure what to do. I always see things like “Just cut the people who won’t let you live up to your potential out of your life!” but these are not people I can cut out of my life. I may have become resigned.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Your last two lines sum it up well! We have boundary busters in our lives that we can’t or don’t want to cut out of our lives. I hope after these posts you will feel hopeful instead of resigned. Stay with me!

  2. Deanna says:

    Thanks for this valuable information. For the past several years, I’ve been adding to my knowledge about boundaries in all areas of my life. There is much more to learn. I am looking forward to the next post.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Deanna, I have been working on this issue since the first Cloud and Townsend book came out on Boundaries back in 1999, I think it was, or ’98. It was the first Christian book I read that talked about boundaries, how to set them, why they were a godly thing to do, and could back it up. What an eye opener to find out you could be a good Christian and still have boundaries! In fact, I am finding that you really can’t be a good anything unless you have proper boundaries.

  3. Valerie says:

    This is great information. I am currently dealing with conflicts in my marriage because I didn’t set proper boundaries from the beginning. I am just discovering why I do the way I do….discovering my boundaries….at middle age. I like the last comment also, “you can be a good Christian and still have boundaries.” Unfortunately, I think, we (Christians), feel that love, forgiveness, mercy, ect., means going along with others…loving them just as they are…but sometimes you can love the person, but not accept the behavior. There are CONSEQUENCES to bad choices!! Thanks for the article.

    • kwpadmin says:

      You are so right, Valeria. And sometimes as Christians, we think loving the other person translates into rolling over and playing dead. Actually one of the most loving things you can do for someone is put an end to their sinning against you. Helping someone want to grow is a good thing. And it’s very hard to do what God wants you to do when you are always dancing to some controller’s tune. 8-) I speak from past experience.

  4. Darlene says:

    OK – I have a husband, married 27+ yrs., who will not talk about feelings at all! I honestly do not know if he even knows what true love is. Then, I have a daughter who is an alpha person (extremely controlling), a social worker, who does not accept my boundaries! I had two BAD relationships, the first one being her father, who I divorced. Because I was not mentally capable of taking care of my children at the time, and my mother not understanding this and thus helping my ex get custody, they lived with their father. Well, now years later, she has told her son (when he was around 6 yrs), and now her daughter who is 5, all about MY past life! I told her years ago when she told her son that I did not appreciate it, and thought that was that! Apparently not – she just told her daughter! Again, I told her that she had crossed my boundary. Her answer was that she would never lie to her children and if they asked, she would tell them – she told me that is her parenting style! Obviously, she has absolutely NO RESPECT for me as her mother (her father has always been on a pedestal way high up there)! I want to keep my relationship with my grandkids but I do not know how to deal with my daughter – I love her dearly!

    • kwpadmin says:

      I certainly feel your pain over this issue that must feel very betraying. While I’m not a counselor, I have benefited over the years TREMENDOUSLY by getting advice and help from Christian counselors. A good one could help you sort this out. You can’t set boundaries on someone else’s behavior. The boundaries we set are on ourselves: what we will or won’t tolerate, and the consequences of having our boundaries crossed, especially after a few warnings. Your last line said it all to me…and I think you need good solid counseling on how to make that happen. It will take several steps. Relationships with grandchildren are worth it all. Good luck to you!

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