Redefining Boundaries: Embracing Preferences for Healthier Interactions

Redefining Boundaries: Embracing Preferences for Healthier Interactions

In the realm of mental health, language plays a pivotal role in shaping our understanding and approach to therapy and self-care. One term that has garnered significant attention is “boundaries.” Traditionally, boundaries are understood as limits set to protect oneself from emotional harm and to maintain personal well-being. However, over time, the term “boundaries” has adopted a connotation that can feel rejecting and unwelcoming, leading to potential misunderstandings and strained interactions. I propose a shift from “boundaries” to “preferences” to foster a more inviting, human-centered approach to our interactions.

The Human Mind and Emotional Perception

The human mind is inherently wired for connection. Our brains are social organs, constantly seeking understanding and acceptance from others. When we establish boundaries, the intention is to communicate our limits, protect our mental health, and foster respect. However, the term “boundaries” can be perceived as rigid and exclusionary, potentially alienating the very people we seek to connect with. This perception is deeply rooted in our natural need to feel heard and understood.

Boundaries: A Historical Perspective

Historically, boundaries have been a crucial concept in psychology and therapy. Sigmund Freud and subsequent psychoanalysts emphasized the importance of boundaries in maintaining a healthy sense of self. Boundaries were seen as necessary to differentiate between self and others, a fundamental aspect of psychological well-being. However, the rigid interpretation of boundaries can sometimes overshadow their original purpose, leading to a sense of isolation rather than connection.

The Evolution of Preferences

In contrast, the term “preferences” carries a more inviting and flexible connotation. Preferences reflect our desires and needs without the harsh implications of exclusion. They communicate our wishes in a way that invites dialogue and mutual understanding. By expressing our preferences, we acknowledge our needs while remaining open to negotiation and connection.

Preferences and Human Interactions

Human interactions are complex and nuanced. Our emotional responses are influenced by various factors, including our upbringing, experiences, and current mental state. When we use the term “boundaries,” it can evoke a defensive reaction, as if there is a barrier to be overcome. On the other hand, “preferences” suggest a more collaborative approach, where both parties’ needs and desires are considered.

Scholarly Support for Preferences

Research in psychology supports the idea that language significantly impacts our perceptions and interactions. Dr. Susan David, a renowned psychologist and author of “Emotional Agility,” emphasizes the importance of using language that fosters openness and connection. She argues that rigid language can create emotional walls, whereas flexible, preference-based language promotes psychological flexibility and resilience.

Similarly, Dr. Brené Brown, a leading researcher on vulnerability and connection, highlights the significance of framing our needs in a way that encourages empathy and understanding. In her book “Daring Greatly,” Brown suggests that embracing vulnerability and expressing our preferences can lead to more meaningful and authentic connections.

The Neuroscience of Connection

From a neurological perspective, our brains are designed to seek connection and understanding. Mirror neurons, for example, play a crucial role in empathy and social interactions. When we express our preferences rather than imposing rigid boundaries, we activate these neurons, fostering a sense of shared experience and mutual respect.

The Need for Humanness

At the core of this shift from boundaries to preferences is the recognition of our shared humanity. We are naturally sensible beings, capable of deep empathy and understanding. By framing our needs as preferences, we honor our inherent desire for connection and create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard.

Practical Application: Shifting to Preferences

Implementing this shift in language can have profound effects on our interactions, both personally and professionally. Here are some practical steps to start using “preferences” instead of “boundaries”:

  1. Reflect on Your Needs: Take time to understand your needs and desires. Reflect on how you can communicate these in a way that invites dialogue and understanding.
  2. Reframe Your Language: Practice using preference-based language. For example, instead of saying, “I have a boundary about not working on weekends,” try saying, “I prefer to keep my weekends free for personal time.”
  3. Encourage Mutual Respect: Foster an environment where others feel comfortable expressing their preferences. This mutual respect can lead to more collaborative and fulfilling interactions.
  4. Seek Understanding: When someone expresses their preferences, strive to understand their perspective. This empathy can strengthen your connection and improve communication.


The shift from “boundaries” to “preferences” is more than a linguistic change; it represents a fundamental shift in how we approach human interactions. By embracing preferences, we acknowledge our shared humanity and create a more inviting and understanding environment. This change can lead to deeper connections, improved mental health, and a greater sense of community.

As we continue to evolve our understanding of mental health and human interactions, it is essential to adopt language that reflects our innate need for connection and understanding. By prioritizing preferences over boundaries, we can foster a culture of empathy, respect, and mutual support. This shift not only benefits our personal relationships but also contributes to a more compassionate and connected society.


  1. David, S. (2016). Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. Avery.
  2. Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Gotham Books.
  3. Siegel, D. J. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. Bantam Books.
  4. Cozolino, L. (2014). The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. W. W. Norton & Company.

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