Personal boundaries: why we need them and how to set them


Good fences make good neighbours. Robert Frost

Every healthy relationship needs boundaries, which is difficult for many of us to accept particularly when we care so much for the happiness and wellbeing of others. It’s easy to let boundaries lapse when we like someone, but it’s important to respect yourself and the other person enough that you don’t because boundaries are essential to healthy relationships.

If you have a hard time standing up for yourself, or agree to do things you don’t want to do, tolerate rude comments or pushy people … this blog is for you! This week Happiness Weekly looks at how you can set boundaries to attract healthier, more positive relationships into your life.

What are personal boundaries?
According to Darlene Lancer from PsychCentral boundaries are rules and principles you live by when you say what you will or won’t do or allow. There are various types of boundaries including material, physical, mental, emotional, sexual and spiritual. Setting a boundary is all about self-preservation.

According to Wikipedia, personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what is reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They are built on a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.

Happiness through Humanism says a boundary is a definite place where your responsibility ends and another person’s begins. It stops you from doing things for others that they should do for themselves. It also prevents you from rescuing someone from the consequences of their destructive behaviour that they need to experience in order to grow.

Knowing your boundaries
Knowing your boundaries is really about self-awareness. You need to be able to define your likes and dislikes and set distances to allow others to approach. Consider what you can tolerate and accept, and what makes you feel uncomfortable and stressed – based on your beliefs, emotions, intuitions, self-esteem and social learnings – within the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual realms.

While working out your boundaries, pay particular attention to any situations where you lose energy, feel a knot in your stomach, want to cry or feel panic or frustration. If you start feeling discomfort or resentment in a situation, it’s generally because someone is encroaching on your boundaries – this blog post is designed to help you stop ignoring your needs and start respecting yourself.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr


How to set healthy boundaries

1. Change your perspective about what a boundary is
If you’re new to setting boundaries, don’t think of it as something you are doing that will cause you to lose friends or respect from others – because it will actually do the opposite. When we have boundaries in place, we start to filter out the bad and enable only the good, positive energies into our lives.

2. Be direct in what your boundaries are
If someone is crossing a boundary, which generally your intuition will say there’s something not right with the situation, use it as your opportunity to clearly tell them what your boundaries are. Be assertive and in the most respectful way, tell them what is particularly bothersome to you and how you can work together to address it. The clearer you are with someone about your boundaries, the more they will respect them.

3. Be honest with yourself
Being honest with yourself about your boundaries and not making excuses for your feelings of fear, guilt and self-doubt is very important because when we start questioning our feelings we impact the power we have behind the boundary. Boundaries not only impact relationships in a healthy way, they are also a sign of self-respect so it’s really important that we preserve them as best we can.

4. What do your values say
Consider the way you were raised and your values and beliefs when setting solid boundaries. This is where you put learning from previous mistakes into practise. Use this as an opportunity to really get to know yourself and what you like and dislike. Are the relationships in your life healthy and reciprocal is there give and take? Really look at your values when setting your boundaries and make sure they align.

5. Put time and effort into self-care
Have you been self-nurturing lately? This is important because it gives you permission to put yourself first. Self-care gives you perspective and enables you to be more present with others and be there for them.

6. Get a boundary buddy
If you’re having difficulty setting boundaries, get yourself a boundary buddy – someone who is either really good at setting boundaries, who you admire or someone who also needs assistance with their boundary-setting and you can lean on each other for support.

7. Monitor your boundaries
Step back and continually monitor your boundaries. See how they are serving you and others. Are they too rigid or too flexible? Ensure you are getting something out of them and the people around you are respecting them. It’s important to be flexible enough that you can change them, but not so flexible that they get overlooked and feel insignificant.

8. Clearly communicate your boundaries
Once you’ve set your boundaries, it’s really important that you clearly communicate them to people, particularly if they are impinging on them. It may be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have but don’t be a doormat because the consequences are much greater than five minutes of awkward conversation. Say “When you …” “I feel…” “Can you please do … instead.” For example “When you yell at me, I feel intimidated, could you please talk calmly with me instead?”

9. Reward your friends
If you have friends who are supporting you and respecting your personal boundaries, make sure you reward them and acknowledge them. Acknowledgement can be by telling them that you appreciate their support and friendship, or it could be taking them out for a drink – it’s entirely up to you.

10. Let go
Learn to let go of anything that no longer serves you. According to the Sanctuary for the Abused, toxic people will use guilt to keep you enslaved and bludgeon you back into place if you begin to detach or upset their status quo. Resist this by learning to recognise the guilt trip and letting go of the people trying to control you and hold you back.


Before dropping a boundary
If you are tempted to drop a boundary, you are looking directly at a red flag. Ask yourself what has changed for you in order to drop the boundary. Consider what you or the other person are doing in order to make you want to forget this boundary. Focus on what the situation is really about at the current time and also what implications dropping this boundary may have on you. Consider some other alternatives to what you can do about the situation and how you can maintain your control and preserve your boundary – don’t forget, they’re there for a reason and self-preservation is essential to our happiness and wellbeing.

In protecting the boundary it is again up to you to clearly communicate what you want with the person. You could do this by following this format: “If you …” “I will…” “And if it continues…” For example, “If you continue to yell at me, I will switch off from you completely, and if that continues you won’t be able to communicate with me any further at all”.

Not sure where you stand with boundaries?
Take this quick online test provided by Psychologies Magazine – it reveals the hard truths behind where you’re up to with setting boundaries and gives some tips on the next steps to take from here.

Recommended reading:
7 ways to protect your energy and enforce healthy boundaries by Dr Susan Biali, M.D.

Characteristics of healthy boundaries by Charles Whitfield, M.D.

How to set healthy boundaries by Britt Bolnick

Begin to set Personal Boundaries by Oprah

Setting personal boundaries – protecting yourself by Robert Burney

Setting boundaries with difficult people by

Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries by Terri Cole

Want to boost self-esteem? 10 ways to establish personal boundaries by Barrie Davenport

Why most boundaries don’t hold up by Melanie Tonia Evans

Setting emotional boundaries: stop taking on other people’s feelings by Alana Mbanza



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Happiness Weekly encourages readers to proactively work towards a successful, happy and secure existence. Just like happiness – Happiness Weekly is for everyone.

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