Boundaries: What, How And Why?



There are many different types of boundaries: internal, external, physical, emotional, sexual, time, energy etc.


An example of a physical (or external) boundary is the “comfort zone” of space around you. Each person has a physical distance that makes him/her feel uncomfortable. This is a flexible space, which varies for different relationships and for changing circumstances in relationships.

We have the right to say when, where, how, why, and who touches or gets close to our body.


We all have the right to have our feelings. We are also responsible for what we do with them and how we show them. Other people are also entitled to their feelings and accountable for their behavior around them.

If a person cannot handle their feelings they may try to ‘dump’ theirs on us. Often we do not realize this and carry around someone else’s emotions. Any time that we have feelings that are overwhelming, some of those emotions belong to someone else. Our own feelings don’t overwhelm us.

We deserve emotional health. Our responsibility in recovery is to not fix our own or other people’s feelings. In recovery, we no longer ‘put down’ or discount our own or another person’s emotions or feelings as unimportant, unnecessary or wrong. We speed our recovery by feeling our feelings. There is a gift at the end of every feeling.


The sexual part of our being is ours and it is sacred. We are entitled to choose and set our own sexual boundaries. Sexual boundary violations can happen at any age when someone speaks about or touches our body in a way that is sexually offensive, painful, frightening, embarrassing or shaming to us.
This boundary is truly personal – sexual boundary violations can be verbal, emotional or physical. A violation can be as horrible and terrifying as rape or as uncomfortable as an inappropriate use of the eyes such as staring or looking.

If we were never taught about sex or were told incorrect information, a sexual boundary is violated.


We have the right to our own thinking. As we recover, we begin to make our own choices about how we think. We allow others to have their own thoughts without interruption and without ridicule.


Specifically, we have the right to our own understanding and relationship with our spirit, god, or higher power.

Any type of boundary violation is a spiritual one. When others make choices for us, violate us physically or sexually, discount our feelings, challenge our concept of our higher power, ignore, abuse or invalidate our thinking, they are playing higher power and are interfering with our relationship with the higher power of our own understanding.

How do we have boundaries?

We are exercising healthy boundaries any time we allow ourselves the right

To define our own god

To have our own feelings

To say how and when we are physically touched

To have our own thoughts

We are also exercising healthy boundaries when we allow others to have these same rights.

Boundaries can be thought of as setting limits, guidelines, or ground rules within personal relationships. These boundaries are defined by each person based on individual experiences, relationship problems and growth.

In a healthy relationship, “setting boundaries”means not taking on too much responsibility, such as making all the initial contacts or decisions. Boundaries are discussed in relation to meeting an individual’s needs without usurping the other person’s rights. It involves compromising, sharing responsibilities and respecting the other person’s boundaries. Establishing boundaries means not losing one’s identity and individuality in relationship.

Why do we have boundaries?

In co-dependent families, boundaries are never the same from day to day. They shift and change depending on the emotional climate of the people in that family. Sometimes there are no boundaries at all.

Once we begin the journey of recovery, we begin to build our self-esteem and become aware of boundary violations. At first we notice the obvious ones. Then as we grow and learn, we become aware of the more subtle violations.

Co-dependents may be “people pleasers” and have trouble saying “no”. We may not have a sense of who we are, what’s OK and what’s not. Self-esteem may be low. Learning to identify and set boundaries is essential to one’s recovery.


Many of us spent a lifetime giving away our power to others. Often we lost the inborn sense of what was rightfully ours – our personal integrity – sometimes mistaking our lack of boundaries for gentleness, acceptance and love.

In ACA we learned that the love we sere seeking would come from self-acceptance and self-nurturance (including having boundaries). These were the avenues we must travel in order to regain our birthright – knowledge of our wholeness.

1. With the help of my Higher Power, I learn to define and maintain my own boundaries.

2. I can say “yes” to what I want and “no” to what I don’t want. The choice is mine.

3. I know who I am.

4. I have physical boundaries. I will say “no” when I don’t want to be touched.

5. I can be close to another person without losing myself.

6. I deserve relationships with people who honor my boundaries.

7. I have a clear sense of myself in any relationship.

8. I have the courage to maintain boundaries even if others disapprove.

9. I have the ability to honor my personal beliefs, values and desires.

10. I am free from the fear, anger or moodiness of others. I can detach with love.

11. With the help of my Higher Power, I release all guilt and fear when I say “no”.

12. I am a valuable human being and I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.