Self Care

How to Set Boundaries & Why You Should 

Simple, expert-backed tips.

By: Nicole Lippman-Barile Ph.D., N.T.P.

Let’s face it — boundary setting can seem challenging, especially if it’s new to you, you tend to put others’ needs before your own, or you find yourself constantly over-committing. In fact, many people don’t know the importance of boundaries or even how to set boundaries. However, establishing healthy relationships can be extremely empowering. Consider it an act of self-care!

The truth is, sometimes, the hardest part about boundaries is maintaining them. It’s not enough to simply state them. What we need to work on is the follow-through. When you do uphold your boundaries, the result is that you will start to feel more comfortable and safe in these relationships, particularly if they respect the boundary you are setting. And if they don’t, you don’t need to accommodate them. Someone’s poor reaction to your boundary setting is not a reflection of your boundary. It is a reflection of their inability to respect your needs and wishes. 

Ahead, we’ll look at the different kinds of boundaries that exist as well as the importance of setting and maintaining them.

What Are Boundaries?

By definition, a boundary is “a line that marks the limit of an area; a dividing line.” In your relationships, setting boundaries establishes what you are accepting from that other person and what you are not. Without an establishment of healthy boundaries in relationships, we allow others to override our values, desires, and feelings. 

What Are The Benefits of Setting Boundaries?

Setting and maintaining boundaries is a vital aspect of communication — it provides a clear statement about what is important to you. In fact, setting boundaries is a necessary part of being in healthy relationships with others. Without them, you open yourself up to feel resentful, disappointed, and potentially even violated.

Boundaries are personal, and they can vary depending on the relationship. The boundaries you set with your employer will most likely be different from the boundaries you set with your parents. 

In addition to having a healthier relationship, and supporting your mental health, one of the biggest benefits of setting boundaries is the fact that you are respecting your own limits and values.

Signs You Need to Set Boundaries in Your Life 

If you start to feel negative feelings (such as resentment or disappointment) towards another person, this could be a clear indication that boundaries need to be set! Check in with your relationships. How are you feeling? Are you noticing that your desires and needs are not being respected or upheld? If the answer is yes, inevitably, you will start to feel some sort of negative emotional consequence or thought process related to this person and/or the experience (and this is completely normal).

For example, you may leave people or situations and feel taken advantage of. This can be especially difficult if you characterize yourself as a people pleaser (as many of us do). You may even find yourself feeling personally responsible for other people’s feelings. The sign is when you start to make personal decisions based on the needs or perceptions of others. People-pleasing might appear to work in the short term, but inevitably, you will end up getting burnt out in the long run.

RELATED: 21 Ways to Beat Burnout

Step by Step Guide to Boundary Setting

Before discussing how to set boundaries, let’s talk about what kind of boundary settings exist. 

Boundaries include:

Emotional Boundaries: being entitled to your own feelings and emotional experience.

Physical Boundaries: being entitled to your own physical space.

Intellectual Boundaries: being entitled to your own thoughts and opinions.

Social Boundaries: being entitled to your own individual friendships and relationships.

Spiritual Boundaries: being entitled to your own spiritual beliefs and practices. 

Now, let’s break it down and define those healthy boundaries.

#1 Get Clear on Your Boundaries

When it comes to how to set boundaries, step one is to get very clear on what you want these boundaries to be. Get honest with yourself about what you really need and ask yourself what that could be. 

#2 Refer to Past Experiences 

Where did you feel your values and boundaries were violated or not respected? Think about what would need to be different for you to have a different outcome. Remember: these desires can change and evolve over time as well!

#3 Clearly State Your Boundary 

Once you’ve defined your boundary, think about a clear statement. For example, “I am unavailable that day, but I am available Tuesday at 9 am to speak,” or, “I appreciate the thought but we would rather spend today as a family. Let’s schedule something next weekend to spend time together.” 

In each of these statements, you are stating a clear sentence that describes what you are unable or don’t want to do, while then offering another time that works for you. It gives the person all the information they need to know in terms of your needs and desires.

What to Do When Boundaries Are Crossed

Navigating Uncomfortable and Inappropriate Situations  

If there’s a situation where someone asks you an uncomfortable or inappropriate question, you can say, “I’m not comfortable answering this. Please steer away from this particular topic or discussion.” This can be more challenging and seem confrontational, but the message is clear and important. You are again stating what you are not comfortable with and saying what instead you are comfortable with. 

My Boundaries Are Crossed, Now What?

Sometimes despite expressing your boundaries, they may be crossed regardless. In this case, you can ask yourself, “Am I willing to uphold my own personal boundary if it means changing or ending this relationship?” If someone repeatedly crosses your boundaries, you may have to ask yourself this hard question and assess what is most important to you. 

The Bottom Line

Boundary setting and maintenance can be hard. The key is to be clear and concise. 

Remember: it isn’t rude or inappropriate to set a boundary. It is a necessity — especially if you want to have healthy relationships. You have the right to set boundaries with anyone and everyone you are in a relationship with — including your mom, your boss, your partner, and your best friend.

Practice will help you gain confidence and will ultimately help you see how boundary setting creates good healthy relationships.