I think I say the word “boundaries” about 100 times a day. That’s because knowing how to identify and respect both your own boundaries and others’ boundaries is THAT important. This is key to having high self-esteem, taking care of yourself, and having healthy relationships with others.

What are Boundaries?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “boundary” as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent”. A very simple visualization of this would be the lines that surround any kind of sports field. These lines indicate what areas are and are not acceptable in which to play. Imagine that you have these same lines around you that indicate what is and is not acceptable behavior, both by you and others. I once heard it described as “what I am willing to do to and for you, and what I am willing to allow you to do to and for me”. Personal boundaries are about managing my own behaviors, but also communicating to others how I would like to be treated.

Now, this does not mean that we use boundaries to control other people. We ultimately have no control over how others behave. What we do have control over is whether to engage with people who mistreat us. If a person in your life continually takes advantage of you or treats you poorly, you have the power to walk away from this relationship. So, I repeat: boundaries are NOT about controlling other people; boundaries are about protecting ourselves.

How Do I Know If I Have Unhealthy Boundaries?

Do you have difficulty telling other people “no”? Do you struggle to tell others how you feel? Is it difficult for you to voice your opinion or disagree with others? Do you often find yourself being taken advantage of by others? Do you feel burnt out or emotionally drained in your relationships? Do you sacrifice your own needs so that others are happy? Do you allow the same people to mistreat you time and time again?

If you answered “yes” to most or all of these questions, you are most likely lacking healthy boundaries. When we are unable to communicate our needs to others, it will inevitably leave us feeling used and drained.

What Boundaries Should I Set?

I’ll say it one last time: boundaries are about protecting ourselves. So, you can set healthy boundaries by first identifying the things that are important to you: Time, money, personal space, opinions, beliefs, emotions, relationships, etc. Ask yourself what you are and are not comfortable with in each of these areas. For example: Are you willing to give someone money repeatedly? Are you okay with your boss asking you to come in on your day off? Who is allowed to physically touch you and how? Are you okay with someone yelling and/or cursing at you? Are you willing to share personal information with others?

Notice that your answers to these questions may vary depending on the “who, what, when, where, and why” in the situation. For example, you may be willing to allow a partner, a friend, or a medical professional to physically touch you, but you may not be willing to allow your boss or a stranger on the street to do so.  Healthy boundaries should be flexible, but clear.

How Do I Set Boundaries?

After you’ve identified the boundaries you would like to set, the next step is to communicate them clearly and effectively. Many of us often use either “passive” or “aggressive” communication styles. Passive communication usually looks like: being soft-spoken and shy, fear of offending others, over-apologizing, etc. Aggressive communication is the opposite: loud, forceful, angry, harsh, etc. The most effective form of communication to use is the happy medium between passive and aggressive, which we call “assertive”. Assertive communication is calm, clear, and firm.

Example: A coworker is shouting at you and you would like for them to stop.

Passive Communication: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! You’re right, I’m sorry!” (Does nothing to set the boundary, just makes you a doormat!)

Aggressive Communication: “YOU BETTER BACK UP OUT OF MY FACE!” (Might be effective, but might also make the situation worse.)

Assertive Communication: “I’m happy to discuss this with you, but do not speak to me that way.” (Calmly explains that you are not willing to accept being yelled at.)

Finally, boundaries are nothing without consequences. Going back to our earlier sports metaphor: What would happen if referees did not enforce penalties for players stepping out-of-bounds? They would all do it! So what happens if you attempt to set boundaries but do not enforce those boundaries? Nobody would respect them. Consequences are what you decide will happen if a person continues to cross your boundary after you have communicated it.

Example: “I’m happy to discuss this with you, but do not speak to me that way. If you continue to yell, this conversation is over and I will ask you to leave.”

If they continue to scream and holler, you simply follow through by ending the conversation and asking them to leave, or leaving the room yourself. Consequences should be appropriate for the situation (as in, don’t resort to violence as your consequence!) and reinforce your boundary. Sometimes, the best consequence is choosing to end an unhealthy relationship altogether.

Boundaries are what keep us happy and sane, people! When I have a clear view of what is and is not acceptable, I will be able to communicate this to others, have healthy relationships, and take better care of myself. What boundaries might you need to set today?


Take care!

2 Replies to “Boundaries”

  1. A useful, and very informative post! Thank you for sharing it.

    Over and over again, i am puzzled by how friends, coworkers or aquaintences seem to understand, “get it” & respect Boundaries more than, and easier than, family does. Its as if the people who are more close, give you hassle more hassle!

    When I am a passenger in anyone else’s car, i dont tell them what radio station to listen to, OR to shut the Music off. Its just understood, without saying a word: iiii, am on *their* “turf”. Therefore, i adapt to them.
    But i may easily get “10 miles of static” if I want the same rights.
    When I’m the passenger, i never tell the driver: I don’t like that stuff, listen to it on your own time!
    But God forbid I would have the same respect returned to me. Oh no! I should be: less selfish….or more considerate.
    Excuse me?? Who is charge at *your* house? If they say: but i could leave your house. I’ m in a moving car”…….my reply: is
    My house, and yes, my car too–my rules. AND—NO ONE ever forced you to ride with me.
    Note: stop and consider, if you were the driver in this scenario and suppose you did “give in” just to be “courteous”. Two questions:

    1. Is it really being Courteous or are you letting yourself get manipulated, even if it may be in a “small” way? And—

    2. How long will it be before this same person finds or invents 6 more scenarios/ways for you to “have more consideration” and Cow-tow to them— on your own turf/property?

    Here’s another everyday thing. Someone comes over to your place to visit, supposedly. Keewwwwl, so let’s DO that. But, when they come over, they bring their cell phone into your place, they are there 2 minutes and (of course! It had to happen), their phone rings. But thats not the worst oart. What is worse is, they answer it and talk and talk and yak and gab and talk some more for 25 minutes as if you’re not even thete! And so……. to avoid this in the future, you make a Boundary that “when you come over to see me, leave your phone out in your car while we visit.” Ha! Just watch how fast they try to slam you with being too-wound-up, a control-freak, selfish and on and on. Over and over when we try to set Boundaries, the other person will immediately resort to:
    A) you’re over-reacting and—
    B) its “no big deal” ( to them). Slick, eh?
    Boundaries are important, but they can also be a relentless battle. The good news is that even though that’s true, it’s still worth it.


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