The Intersection of Boundaries and Culture

Boundaries are limits we set to create a healthy sense of personal, physical, and emotional space. They help us distinguish our desires and needs from those of others. Healthy boundaries allow us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions and prevent us from being manipulated, violated, or mistreated by others.

Culture encompasses our history, beliefs, customs, norms, values, languages, and traditions. Culture influences how we perceive and set boundaries which is an important component of our mental health. It’s “like the air we breathe — it really shapes everything; it permeates all life. Culture shapes the way we get sick, the way we interpret our distress, the way we think we’re going to heal, and the way we see our healers. ~ Lillian Comas-Díaz Multicultural Care

And culture shapes the ways in which we set boundaries.

Examples of healthy boundary setting:

  • Joachim uses one of his sick days when he doesn’t feel well to give himself time to recover from the flu;
  • Marta abstains from volunteering for yet another project when her supervisor asks for volunteers. She knows she cannot shoulder the additional responsibilities and complete her assigned tasks;
  • Pilar says no when Berta asks to borrow money to pay her rent even though she does have the funds. Berta has never repaid the money she borrows from Pilar;
  • Eric tells his cousin to call before he comes to his house next time so that they can have a proper visit, even though he grew up in a culture where friends and family drop by unannounced;
  • Aminata tells her mother that she won’t look for a wife for her little brother. Her brothers don’t listen to her dating advice, and she doesn’t want to assume responsibility in a situation over which she has little control.

These individuals represent amalgams of clients who reach out for additional support in unpacking the components of healthy boundaries. “Just do it!” Know your boundaries and set them doesn’t work. They feel miserable, dejected, depressed, anxious, and guilty.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Prioritize your mental health this month by reflecting on your cultural influences and how they support and or impede your ability to set boundaries.

by Jacqueline Samuda

I'm a multilingual psychotherapist who specializes in providing culturally-sensitive treatment to a diverse clientele. With 20 years at agencies such as the Montgomery County Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program, the DC Commission on Mental Health and the National Center for Children and Families, I have experience in helping clients with depression, anxiety and victimization. I am particularly interested in working with clients to heal from physical and sexual trauma as well as addressing issues of disempowerment, cultural adjustment and life transitions. I am a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and EMDR Therapist. My interactive approach also involves providing support and practical feedback.