Merriam-Webster defines a boundary that fixes or shows a limit of extent (Merriam-Webster, 2021). Regarding human beings, this invisible line separates the point where one person ends and the next begins. It exists to keep both factions safe and engaged in a relationship. When one crosses this divide, the unseen becomes a focal point, until that boundary has either mended or altogether collapses. Not taught in school, boundaries are an important function within the social setting that leave many to figure out on their own. Relationships are not possible without them, but many people do not know what these are. Setting a boundary gets perceived as an offensive act, rather than love. Keeping oneself psychologically and mentally well is a healthy behavior encouraged to keep relationships active and in-tact. One person setting a boundary speaks “I love our interactions and this ensures it will continue respectfully;” as well as, “I honor your being enough to set and make known these confines.”

Think of a time when you felt uneasy around another who stood too close, talked too loudly, complained too much, or asked for money (and no, I am not referring to your children). What feelings did you experience? Some become anxious, angered, others merely uncomfortable. Depending on the culture one grew up in, a person may view these behaviors as acceptable if the cultural practices accepted this conduct. Or, a person may such acts offensive. Boundaries vary per person and form throughout life, beginning in childhood, and learned through experience.

In the relational aspect, a person recognizes social cues and gauges these as a signal the other feels safe or guarded. Through the lens of Dr. Porges’s Polyvagal theory*, the nervous system works to detect safety or danger. An unconscious process, neuroception, refers to this automatic scanning of one’s environment for threats of danger or life threat. Once determined secure, the nervous system enters the ventral vagal state of social engagement. Once safe, the person is free to use vocal tones, varied facial expressions, and experiences low respiratory and heart rates. Boundaries are that limit which, when crossed, triggers the engagement of the human defense system.         

Think of a fire alarm. Once you smell smoke, you activate the alarm, and all defenses are activated. You run, you fight, you do whatever you can possible to make yourself safe again. Your body physically adjusts to this by increasing adrenaline, taking blood away from your brain and stomach, and sending it to your muscles, you expel all unnecessary food, you may even eliminate. These are all to help you to be able to be in the condition to fight or flee the danger.                                                                                

manual red fire alarm system
Photo by Nothing Ahead

External and internal boundaries function separately. Internal boundaries refer to those mental, emotional, and spiritual someone develops to keep them psychologically contained and protected (Pia Mellody, 2003). If another verbally attacks or psychologically abuses you, does that information become integrated within your core defined self? Or, does it bounce off like glue and stick to you like that saying in childhood I never believed? Likewise, when you are angry, anxious, or in pain, do you distribute negative emotions to others through blame, shame, or disparaging one’s character? How do you handle big feelings?

External boundaries are those physical boundaries that separate one’s body from another. Think personal space- a concept my children have not yet comprehended fully. Visualize your physical response when someone stands an inch away. Physical boundaries include those sexual or all within distance and touch.

Unfortunately, this topic rarely gets discussed, learnt through human interactions, and varies widely. The ramifications for determining another’s limits incur damage to connection and concede the basis for a multitude of intimacy disorders, such as autism. Resultant loneliness and isolation occur, which disrupt the conditions to help a human thrive.

If the concept of a boundary is foreign, it is imperative that one not only learn, but also how to respect those of others, in order to engage in bi-directional relationships. I will post many articles on this concept because the complicated subject gets intense and underlies the fundamental difficulties we experience in human relationships and societal functioning today. It is a matter central to mental wellbeing. If you find that you cannot keep relationships, or that you have too many acquaintances and zero people you can be intimate with, you may want to reevaluate your boundary system.                  

people laughing under the sun
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


“Boundary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Sep. 2021.

*For information on Dr. Porges and the Polyvagal Theory, you may purchase his book here (or other stores):   

Mellody, Pia, et al. Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.

Available to purchase at:                   

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