How to Set Boundaries


Just the word can evoke mixed feelings. You know you should have them, you feel guilty for wanting them, you don’t know how to set boundaries, and you struggle to maintain them.

You’re normal. We don’t come born with boundaries and they’re not generally something that just magically appears with being an adult. They involve conscious choice to select, implement, and maintain.

The boundaries you choose are highly personal, so they may not be the same as anyone else’s. And your reasons for setting certain boundaries are also individual.

When you realize you need to set some boundaries, this often comes from finding that you don’t have appropriate boundaries, and that has caused problems for you. Taking the first step to acknowledge that fact and then work towards setting boundaries for yourself takes courage. Give yourself an internal pat on the back for that – you already have more strength than you thought you had.

Here are some tried-and-tested tips for how to set boundaries:

  1. Consider your limits.
    Having a clear understanding of what your personal limits are will help you decide where to set boundaries before you reach those limits. Think about past experiences where lack of boundaries caused you hurt or distress, and think about what boundaries would have prevented that outcome. Write down your limits and the boundaries you want to try; this will help you stay focused and clear. Having clarity and being consistent will also help people to know how you expect and need to be treated.
  2. Be assertive.
    Yes, we know – this is a scary one! But logically, there’s no point having boundaries if other people don’t know they exist. The only way to communicate your boundaries is to be direct. This doesn’t mean you need to internally prepare for a fight each time you communicate a boundary; focus on being clear but friendly. Practicing initially with small things can help you get used to being more assertive; for example, were you over-charged, did a server get your order wrong, is a work colleague trying to push their work onto you?
  3. Keep practicing.
    Any conscious change you make in your life can feel uncomfortable for a while. After all, it’s a change, a departure from what you’re used to and comfortable with. Setting boundaries is no different. Be determined to find and practice being assertive in small ways every day if you can. Remember, your goal is not to be combative – you’re simply stating in a neutral but clear way that someone has crossed a line and you expect something different.
  4. Stand your ground.
    This can be tricky because you’re also battling your own internal voices that tell you to just let it go, it’s not worth it, you’re not worth it. Boundaries are not boundaries if they have gates in them. If ,after clear communication, a person continues to disrespect or disregard your boundaries, remind yourself of your own worth as a person and do not continue dealing with the person in that capacity. This tells the person and others that you mean what you say and you expect your boundaries to be respected.

The above four steps may seem simple and obvious to you, but you may still be struggling internally to implement them. You’re not alone – many people struggle to set and maintain boundaries because they don’t feel that they’re worth it.

This negative internal dialogue can be even more destructive to your lack of self-worth, and it’s often worth seeking the guidance of a licensed professional mental health counselor to help you address these negative voices.

At Given Guidance Family Counseling, we’ve worked with countless individuals who struggle with low self-worth, helping them work towards balance and inner peace.

Contact us today to schedule your first session.