How To Set Healthy Boundaries - And Stick To Them

4 min
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You may think you have good, healthy boundaries. Yet for most people, when asked what exactly their boundaries are, they have a hard time defining them clearly. Setting and upholding healthy boundaries is an important part of our self-care. Boundaries are designed to protect our physical and emotional well-being, and are determined by what behaviors we find acceptable or not to allow in our lives. 

Without boundaries, people won’t think twice about walking all over you. This can feel extremely frustrating and can lead to negative feelings as well as the loss of identity and self-esteem. That said, when it comes to drawing limits with friends and family, work colleagues, or a partner, there really is no magic bullet. Successfully setting personal and professional boundaries requires a good dose of self-reflection and honesty on our part to decide where to draw the line, especially when that line is invisible. So how do we create them - and then commit to them?

Create a List of What You Want and Need

You are the architect of your own life, and only you can decide how you want to live it. Writing down the rules of what you are comfortable and uncomfortable with makes them more tangible than just thinking about them. Take the time to get clear about your beliefs and values, what you are willing to tolerate from others, and how you want to be treated. Think back to your past experiences, and make an inventory of behaviors that make you feel good and those that cause you to feel more negative emotions, like stress, sadness, frustration, and anger. For example, if your friend gossips about you, or your co-worker routinely dumps his work on you, put it down on paper and explore how it makes you feel when they behave in this way. Decide if this is something that is acceptable to you or not.  It is important to note that a boundary is different from a barrier: while the latter is a way to try and block or prevent more intimacy or growth in a relationship, the former involves a healthy limit rather than an obstacle, in a way that allows you more freedom to be your own authentic self, and honour your own needs as much as you would with those of anyone else.

Communication Is Key

As the expression goes, we teach people how to treat us一and what we are willing to tolerate and accept in how we are treated. This is perhaps the most difficult part of sticking to boundaries. Sure, you may now know where you stand on certain behaviors and have established limits, but it only works if the people around you are aware of them too. When boundaries are breached, it is essential to take control and assert yourself! Lack of communication or inconsistency will only serve to create confusion as to what is expected. Should the occasion call for it, let the person know they have crossed the line and that there will be consequences if their behavior doesn’t change. For example, if a friend hurts your feelings in their words or actions, don’t be afraid to call them out on it in a respectful and non-accusatory way. This is not about being defensive, or sticking it to someone一this is about respecting yourself enough to let others know what you need and want. If the friend in question respects your needs, or was not aware that their behavior was hurtful or distressing to you, it could actually make your friendship stronger. 

On the other hand, if you notice that your boundaries are still being overstepped, even after having addressed the issue, then it may be time to make good on your word, by drawing the consequences and acting on it. Ultimately, in a case like this example, you may have to end your friendship or at least distance yourself until they make an honest attempt to rectify the situation. Remember: when you need to assert your boundaries more firmly, it’s not about trying to be aggressive, unhelpful, or uncaring with others一it’s about learning to respect your own limits enough to commit to them, without sacrificing your own needs for the sake of others’. 

Believe In Yourself, and Honor Your Needs

If you are a people-pleaser, or someone who likes to say yes no matter the circumstance, it may be difficult to stand up for yourself for fear of losing friends, appearing rude or arrogant to your work colleagues, or upsetting a family member for instance. If the thought of setting a boundary ー or even just saying “no” more often ー is causing you undue stress or anxiety, take some time to practice.  Stand in front of a mirror and say what you need to say out loud一write a script, or record yourself if it helps. 

Ultimately, you will never know where people really stand until you speak up. That means mustering up the courage to say no to a co-worker who keeps taking advantage of your time, or directly asking that friend who always flakes out on you to try harder, or even telling a family member who regularly puts you down in front of others to please just stop since their words and actions are hurtful and distressing to you. 

While you don’t have the power to change someone else’s behavior, you may be surprised to discover how much respect you may garner when you change your own and put your foot down. This can feel very empowering and uplifting. Setting boundaries can help to boost your self-esteem and confidence, increase your productivity, and avoid burnout. If that isn’t the case in the end ー if you encounter too much push-back ー then at the very least you will have learned a valuable lesson as to who is deserving of your time and energy and who is not.


All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Establishing Effective Personal Boundaries; Relationships Among Personal Space Boundaries, Peer Acceptance, and Peer Reputation in Adolescents; The Importance of Personal Boundaries

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