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How to Set Healthy Boundaries

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Between family and friends, it's often hard at times to set appropriate boundaries with other people. Let me know if the following sounds familiar. Have you ever had a situation where someone kind of bullied you into making a decision where you didn't feel comfortable? What about a time when you went along with something even though it didn't feel right to you? These are examples of when your internal alarm was going off, and you ignored it. So what are boundaries and how can you keep them? 


Boundaries are invisible barriers that are set in place to help you and other people. It's a means of protecting yourself and others from things that can hurt you emotionally, physically, and mentally. Often times, boundaries are the hardest thing to enforce, because we learn certain patterns of boundaries. These patterns become a part of our internal message, and they can be hard to get rid of. 

7 Ways to Set Boundaries

Be responsible for yourself. Identify if you are letting go of your boundaries. There are two different emotions that tend to be warning signs that you are not setting appropriate boundaries for yourself. The two of these include resentment and discomfort. If you are feeling either one of these emotions related to an interaction or an expectation, this is your cue that you need to do some internal digging to find out more about what's going on with you. What is it about what they are saying or doing that is causing you to be uncomfortable or resentful? 

Know your limits. Identify emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual limits. Once you know your limits, you need to be able to verbalize what your limits are (in a way that promotes conversation- you don't want to scream at someone). A lot of times, we expect others to be able to read our minds, but outside of sci-fi movies, it's not a fair expectation. You can let the person know what your boundaries are. If they cross your boundaries, don't be afraid to have a conversation on working together to make sure that it doesn't happen again. 

Practice saying no. With some people, boundaries tend to come a little easier and you won't have to verbalize your boundaries as some people are able to read your cues. However, with others, it's not so easy. You may need to verbalize your boundaries with your friends, family, and significant other. Sometimes, with family members, you may need to practice setting boundaries as you may feel guilty saying no or may not feel as though boundaries are an acceptable thing to have in relationships with your family. However, boundaries are just a part of a healthy relationship, and they tend to be an indicator of how you feel about yourself as well. 

Understand that you can't fix people. If you are having a hard time with boundaries, practice makes perfect. Look at exploring new relationships where you can practice setting appropriate boundaries with others. Remember, you can only control you and what you do. You can't control other people's emotions or actions. If you set boundaries with someone and they are unable to stick to your boundaries (even after talking about the boundaries), you may need to take some time away from that relationship. Sometimes, just by being an example of what good boundaries look like, others will follow suit. 

Be self aware about how your decisions affect your health and happiness. Part of your journey with boundaries includes identifying what feels right for you. You need to make a habit of asking yourself if something feels off. For example, asking yourself what's either going on with you or someone else that's causing you to feel that way. Taking it a step further, when you figure out what's going on, you can make a better decision with what to do next. 

Practice self love and take care of yourself. In order to practice self love and take care of yourself, you need to give yourself permission to do so. Part of knowing yourself is understanding that your emotions and well being matter. Often times, your emotions will give you clues as to how you need to proceed. As I've mentioned before, I like the airplane instructions for putting on oxygen masks in case of an emergency. I think it's relevant to self love as well. You need to put on your own mask before you help someone else out. You can't help them if you are emotionally dead. 

Remove yourself from toxic situations and controlling people. It may be hard to acknowledge some of those expectations that are considered toxic, because they may be a part of your internal dialogue. However, being self aware of how you feel and what others are doing will help you to set appropriate boundaries with others. You can't expect to change others and how they function; you can only control what you do. Sometimes, if the relationship is toxic or you don't like how others are treating you, it may be best to just walk away. 

When Setting Boundaries

For those of you who are new to setting boundaries, try setting smaller boundaries first. This, just like a lot of things, takes practices. If you start with smaller things that aren't as threatening, you will gain confidence to help you with the harder stuff. 

Still Need Something Extra? 

There are so many things that you can do to explore ways to help with anxiety and trauma. I have a lot of different resources that you can check out here. However, if you need something a bit stronger, such as individual guidance or even group help, you can schedule a time to talk about what those next steps would look like. Do you want/need something to change? If so, let's talk. 

Creative Space Online Counseling and Coaching

Barbara Maulding, NCC, LCPC