We all have our boundaries, what we will agree to share with others or not for instance. It is normal to have boundaries and when we are not able to keep these boundaries, we feel stressed because we feel our space is invaded.

But do you know that acceptable boundaries are mostly cultural?

There are several types of boundaries, what I would call for simplicity physical, psychological and group boundaries. The last one is sometimes refers to as diffuse or specific continuum of boundaries.

The physical one is relatively easy to understand. How far, or close, do you need to physically be from somebody else and be comfortable? Of course, it will vary from individual to individual and the person you interact with. However, there are norms and rules in every cultures that dictate what is an acceptable distance. In some cultures, it is normal to hug people, even your colleagues sometimes. Not doing so would seem rude and you would appear very distant. In other cultures, people just shudder at the idea of touching somebody they are not very close to. Even when it comes to interacting with your spouse/partner, cultures will dictate what is acceptable in terms of behaviours in public places: can you hold hands, kiss? Where are your and your culture physical boundaries?

What I call the psychological boundaries are what you keep to yourself and family/very close friends and what you are comfortable sharing with a wider group of people. Again, this varies from culture to culture. In some cultures, it is absolutely acceptable to share how much you earn, things about your private life and in some cultures, it is absolutely a no-go. Again, think about what you are comfortable sharing and where it comes from.

Finally, the group boundaries are how much distance you put between the different areas of your life. We have touched already on sharing about your private life. But then there is another aspect. How much overlap do you have between the different groups you belong to? In some cultures, it is normal to have a very strong bound with your colleagues and doing things together outside work is normal, even required. In other cultures, your friends and colleagues are completely different people and these two worlds are completely separate. A last aspect of this is how much roles and hierarchy transfer from one part of your life to another. For instance, would you do something personal for your boss because she/he is your boss? Would you consider your boss still has more knowledge than you on an outside work topic just because of the status?

Now it is important to be aware of your own boundaries, and I hope you answered the questions in the post, and important to understand others’ boundaries. Trespassing boundaries will prevent the building of relationships, trust. If you let people step your boundaries, you feel stressed, your confidence will decrease. What do you do to prevent people from trespassing your boundaries and not stepping into others’ private space when uninvited?

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