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Personal Boundaries and Why We Need Them - Ask the Experts

This month’s expert is local psychotherapist, Naomi Casement, of Naomi Casement Therapy. Naomi is a licensed master of social work, a certified alcohol and drug counselor, and a certified sex addiction therapist. She brings her expert advice on how to set healthy boundaries to keep us safe, respected, and balanced in our lives. Naomi practices at the Mosaic Center for Integrated therapy.  Her website is and shares interesting articles.  Follow Naomi Casement LMSW, CAADC, CSAT on facebook.

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You hear the buzz about boundaries in social circles, media, talk shows books etc.  But, do we really know or stop to consider what this really means in our daily interactions?  You may be someone who wonders if they have healthy boundaries with others.  If so, you are not alone.  One example of struggling with boundaries is not being able to say "no" to others when you are truly in a poor position to honor their request but you do so anyway. The result may leave you frustrated, exhausted, and emotionally spent if this is something you do often. 

The concept of boundary setting is a complex one. To be able to live a confident and fulfilled life keeping stresses at its minimum, you have to be able to define how you are going to live your life, with the definition of who and what you will allow to influence your decisions.  Boundaries teach people how to treat you.

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What is a boundary?

One way to look at what boundaries are is; “where one person ends and the others begin”.  Think of an invisible line drawn between you and the other person that defines what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  This line is malleable to circumstances and is ever evolving with others. The closer you are with someone you may find that you have looser boundary settings with them. But note, boundaries are still there. With others the boundaries are tighter.

An example would be:

“Im not taking personal calls from my neighbor at 2am just to chat. I can be reached at reasonable hours.” 


You have the right for self preservation and not expend all of your personal and emotional energies for your safe keeping of good health. 

Boundaries allow us to function as autonomous individuals without control, manipulation or coheres-ion from another person. This includes when one is taking advantage of another person’s kindness for  their personal gain. People are either the one struggling to set a boundary and say no or the user who crosses boundaries to continue to ask or take from another when that person has respectfully been clear about not being able to act.   Therefore, boundaries have to do with how we behave in our relationships with others.  This is a learned behavior to get along in the world as functioning rational human beings that runs across all of our relationships with others.  To live genuine and comfortable lives we have to embrace the art of disappointing, and possibly upsetting others who just may not like our decisions realizing that we simply cannot do everything that is asked of us.  We must know that by saying no at times does not make us selfish, mean or non caring people. Setting boundaries does not mean that you would never extend a helping hand to someone in need.  It means that we cannot be all things to all people and we are in control of ourselves to care for our being, help when we can, and to not let someone in if we need to do so.

Distress enters into the picture of boundary setting when one has overly rigid or overly loose limits. If you are the person who is asking, wanting, or taking from another and struggle to stay withing boundaries, only to cross them, you are faced with dealing with resentment, defensiveness, and anger. If you are the person who struggles to say "no"and rarely put yourself before another you are left to feel, exhausted, resentment, maybe guilt ridden if you try to say "no" and allow yourself to be steam rolled by others. 


Boundaries come in many forms and complexities. Here are different catagories of boundries to think about:

1). We have personal physical boundaries that refers to your personal space in relation to others. It is the knowing and acceptance of a comfortable range between you and another human being.  The awareness of ones comfortability in accepting affection from personal touch including hand shakes or giving and receiving hugs is part of having healthy boundaries with others.  In addition, peoples physical personal space is important too.  For example, you leave your work desk which is your space a certain way only to come in the following day with clutter all over it.  You would feel violated, frustrated, and perhaps angry.  Your left with the feeling of being taken for granted.  How you care for your personal space may also be something to take note of and if you struggle in this area. Ask yourself; in my personal space, is it cluttered or organized?  Is it cluttered so people are not able to get closer. Do I just put things anywhere and not consider how others feel. Are others peoples things run over to me and I feel like I have no space?

2). Financial boundaries is important to mention. This includes how you spend, save and give of your finances. Are you someone who feels that, if you are asked you have to financially help someone.  This does not mean that you should not help or should help. But you have to learn the complexity of what is truly helping and what may be opening yourself up to being taken advantage of. 

3). With emotional boundaries one must be able to withstand differences in thinking and opinions.  It is the tolerance of another persons belief that is different from yours. You do not have to fix everything or give out advice. Often true support may be just being there with someone. 

4). With sexual boundaries you have every right to accept personal and physical touch that is comfortable to you. In addtion, you have no right to cross those comforts of another person.  Your right to respectfully say "no" to someone does not mean you hold guilt and fear that you will not be accepted, loved, or liked.  The outing of the "me too" movement has brought out what many people have silently and torturously have kept inside because boundaries were crossed with them and they were left to feel helpless, wrong, and alone. Whether you believe in this movement or not, the crossing of boundaries with others is a critical issue that we must be teaching our young ones and others not to do because of the harm it leaves.                                                                                                                

5). Mental boundaries occur in a healthy manner when you are able to hold an open mind to others.  It is the allowance of other peoples values, beliefs, opinions, and thoughts to be theirs; and their allowance of letting you have yours.  A weak mental boundary will show up as an opposing uncomfortable revolt from the opposed. Who wants to feel that negative energy coming out? This can also become complex especially in emotional abuse cases where mental power and control over another occurs which is the crossing of boundaries and emotionally harming a spirit of another. 

6).  Lastly our spiritual boundaries are important to mention.  People are entitled to have their beliefs whether this pertains to the traditional meaning of God or other deities, as long as this is not forced, or with harm to any human being. As you know, spiritual beliefs has caused wars and oppression since the dawn of man. However, for this articles sake we are talking about how to deal and regulate ourselves in the best positive and possible way with our fellow man and so we can live in peace with confidence, and not feel guilt if we are choosing to not do something.

If you find yourself struggling in any of the above areas and are unsure of what to do, I encourage you to seek professional help.  Please note that the good news is that healing and living comfortably can occur.


One question is always asked of me and that is; “why to I feel so guilty when I don’t want to do something”.  Guilt too is a very complex emotional response.  It is important to consider guilt in this article due the connected response to boundaries that are being crossed.  What is guilt?  It is the emotional feeling of something that you have done is wrong whether or not it is true.  It is the concern of consequences of the right or wrong

of something and that you may be chastised or rejected in some way.  An example of how complex guilt can come into play would be; you are asked to work a school fundraising event and you are exhausted after working 6 days a week for a month. You begin to feel the pressure and want to say no. You agonize over this and say "no". But you are left feeling guilt for not helping and worry about being wrong that you did not help, due to the vast array of consequences you fear; such as, being seen as not helpful, to not willing to be part of the community. Or you fear that if you do, you know you will feel resentful because your energy is depleted and spend days being silently hard on yourself with critical negative messages about you. Either way you are carrying a torturous and unhealthy way of being. 

Did you know that chronic guilt can affect the body.  Research shows that chronic guilt releases higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) which is made for protection for the flight, fight and freeze response.  If exposed to higher levels for long periods of time it can affect the system. It weakens the system, increases blood pressure, can aid to inflammation in the body and increases the heart rate.  When working in overdrive the system is on over use weakening the system. 

So what can you do to overcome guilt? 

1). If you made a mistake work hard to own it and forgive yourself. You are human and will make mistakes. We all do.  Learning to have self compassion is a forever action to accept as part of lifes coping and evolving. 

2).  If you have made a mistake and if it is appropriate non harming to another, apologize with not strings attached.  That means not expecting anything in return. You are simply owning your mistake.

3). Turn to gratitude and learn from your mistakes.  A little guilt (and I mean a twinge) may keep you in line with your positive ethics and morals.

4). Remember boundaries?  It is okay to say "no" when you need to for self care. 

5). Please don't be afraid to get help if you are struggling and being overwhelmed with guilt.  You can heal. 

These are a few tips that will get you thinking and started if you are looking to make changes in your life journey.  As you can see boundaries and emotional reaction complexities are certainly intertwined in our lifes. But when it comes down to it we all want to be treated with compassion, love, and kindness. It is hoped that we give that outwardly too.

 Helpful Resources

Book Resources to consider:  Boundaries.  When to say yes and how to say no to take control of your life.  By Henry Cloud and John Townsend

The gifts of imperfection: let go of who you think you're supposed to be and Embrace who you are.  By Brene Brown







Emily Brown