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What's Your Boundary Style?

What comes to mind when you hear the word boundary?

Quite literally, boundaries are lines. They keep things in or out. They help us communicate yes or no.

In our relationships, boundaries are the limits, rules and expectations we set for ourselves and others.

On paper, they seem pretty straightforward. IRL? Things often feel a little less black and white.

In part, this is because we all have different preferences about boundaries and different processes for setting them. Our boundaries are shaped by our culture, our families, our past experiences, our attachment styles, how entitled we feel to them, and how capable we feel of sharing them.

What’s Your Boundary Style?

Knowing that boundaries help us say “yes” or “no” let’s think of boundaries as existing on a spectrum. On one end is the NO category: rigid boundaries. On the other end is the YES category: porous boundaries.

If you struggle with boundaries, it can be helpful to identify your boundary style so you can be aware of it and practice setting boundaries from a balanced and centered place.

Rigid Boundaries

People with rigid boundaries:

  • Tend to say “no” more than they say “yes”

  • Are skeptical of others / others have to “earn” their trust

  • Are uncomfortable sharing personal information about emotions, family, etc.

  • Tend to take on challenges on their own

  • Avoid vulnerability

  • Put up walls to “keep people out”

  • Have low expectations of others

If you lean toward the rigid boundaries end of the spectrum you may also experience increased muscle tension or discomfort with physical touch. Your body language might say to others that you don’t want to be approached.

Porous Boundaries

People with porous boundaries:

  • Tend to say “yes” more than they say “no”

  • Have difficulty expressing disagreement

  • Are compelled to please others

  • Fear abandonment / rejection

  • Tend to overshare early in relationships

  • Rely on others for advice and direction

If you lean toward the porous boundaries end of the spectrum you may feel lax in your muscles or “collapsed”. Your body language might express fear and insecurity. You might identify with the term “codependent”.

Pendulating Boundaries

People with pendulating boundaries bounce back and forth between rigid and porous boundaries. They may open up and be vulnerable, and then quickly shut down and shut others out.

If you have pendulating boundaries, you might find your ability to set boundaries depends on whether you feel safe or are triggered, as well as other life factors that impact your emotions and stress level.

People with pendulating boundaries often report feeling disconnected from their bodies. You might be most aware of discomfort in your body. You might come across as "flighty" or "chaotic" to others..

It’s All About Balance

When I shared these categories with a client recently, they asked “Is this just another way to describe attachment styles?”

In a way, yes, and in a way, no.

A quick Dr. Google led me to a research article that described boundaries as the “observable manifestations of an individual attachment style/internal working model."

In other words, boundaries are one piece of our attachment style. Boundaries can give us a lot of data about our inner world, trust in relationships, and capacity to self-regulate during relational stress.