Updated: Jun 2
Boundaries are the rules we establish in our personal relationships. When people respect our boundaries, we feel comfortable, and we’re able to be our best selves.
Unfortunately, people don’t always respect our boundaries. Sometimes this happens because they’re narcissistic and don’t care. But just as often, they simply don’t know what our boundaries are. Here’s how to establish firm personal boundaries, for the sake of your own mental health.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
When a person has healthy boundaries, they feel comfortable saying “no” when they’re uncomfortable. However, they’re also open to relationships with other people.
This means striking a balance. When someone is unable to get close to other people, it’s called having rigid boundaries.[*] When a person is unable to distance themselves from others, it’s called having porous boundaries.
Boundaries fall into a number of categories:[*]
Physical – Establishing physical boundaries means protecting our own personal space. This is the most basic kind of boundary.
Emotional – Establishing emotional boundaries means choosing who you want to share your deepest feelings with. For example, you wouldn’t share the gory details of your divorce with your barista.
Sexual – Establishing sexual boundaries means engaging in safe, consensual sexual activities. It also means saying “no” when you’re uncomfortable.
Workplace – Establishing workplace boundaries means not being forced to do work that’s not part of your job. It also means not having to deal with other people’s drama.
Time – Establishing time boundaries means letting people know when you are and are not available, and not letting them waste your time. For example, if someone is always late, let them know that it’s disrespectful.
Material – Material boundaries are the limits we put on our personal belongings. For instance, letting a friend borrow your car in an emergency, but not on an everyday basis.
As you might imagine, boundaries crop up in all sorts of human relationships. Any time two or more people are interacting, they’re following a set of rules. Even if we’re not conscious of them, boundaries are everywhere.
Some people are experts at establishing boundaries in all situations, but most of us struggle in one area or another. For instance, a person could have healthy physical and sexual boundaries, but rigid emotional boundaries that inhibit them from forming deep relationships.
Boundaries don’t just vary from person to person. They also vary depending on the context. If you had an abusive childhood, it’s healthy to talk about that with your spouse or therapist. If you brought it up in a business meeting, it would make your coworkers deeply uncomfortable.
Boundaries also differ from culture to culture. In many African cultures, it’s perfectly normal for adult male friends to hold hands when they’re walking together. In Western culture, that would only happen if the two were romantically involved.
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Importance of Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries builds the foundation of a healthy relationship. When we set boundaries, we make it clear to other people what we’re willing to tolerate or do. They may or may not like it. But they will respect you for it while refusing to set boundaries invites a lack of respect.
This means you’re more likely to feel validated. Your life will no longer be only about meeting other people’s needs. Your own needs will be equally important. When people knowingly cross boundaries, they’re blatantly disrespecting you, which can even be considered abuse.
Setting boundaries is not a bad thing. It’s not “rude” or “selfish” to communicate these boundaries. Boundaries represent awareness of your personal wants and needs, and other people need to know that. When your boundaries are respected, you’re able to live life to its fullest potential. And people can only respect your boundaries when they know what those boundaries are.
Of course, the inverse is also true. If you want to have healthy relationships with other people, you’ll need to respect their boundaries as well.
Personal Boundaries Protect Our Relationships
Setting boundaries will be good for all of your relationships. When you communicate your own boundaries, people will adjust their behavior according.
Incidentally, setting boundaries can also show you who your real friends are. If people disrespect your new boundaries, you may want to reconsider who you’re spending your time with.
Healthy boundaries have additional benefits, including:
Reduced risk of burnout
Improved sense of independence
More focus on your health and wellness
More clarity on your identity, values, and beliefs
Are My Personal Boundaries Being Respected?
When we set boundaries, it helps us to set expectations on both sides of a relationship. If someone is emotionally healthy, they won’t intentionally cross any of your red lines. But people with some personality disorders will routinely violate others’ boundaries.
It’s important that you feel safe in your relationship. When you say “no,” the other person needs to accept that. If you tell them something in confidence, they need to respect that what you told them is secret.
They also need to listen as well as speak. If you never feel validated in a relationship, it’s just more evidence that the relationship is unhealthy.
A lot of what I’m saying is most obvious when applied to a romantic relationship. But boundaries are part of all relationships. It’s just as important that your friends, family, and coworkers respect your boundaries.
Communication is Everything
One of the biggest obstacles to setting boundaries is communication. If you feel like someone is constantly violating your boundaries, ask yourself if you’ve ever said anything out loud.
This can seem intimidating at first, and you may risk disappointing them. But if you never verbally set boundaries, how are others supposed to know when they’re crossing the line?
Brene Brown, a famous social psychologist once said: “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”* If you want to set personal boundaries, you need to teach people how you want to be treated. Here are some polite ways to set limits:
Physical boundaries – “I'm not comfortable with people standing that close to me. If you don't take a step back, I'm going to have to leave.”
Emotional boundaries – “I’m sorry you’re going through such a tough time, but I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to help you right now. Call me this evening if you still need to talk.”
Workplace boundaries – “I’m busy on another project. Have you asked [supervisor’s name]? They could find somebody to help you.”
Time boundaries – “I’m only available until four o’clock.”
Material boundaries – “Please don’t touch my smartphone.”
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Tips for Setting Boundaries
The best way to set boundaries is to be as clear as possible and to offer continued feedback. This can be challenging, particularly when setting boundaries is a new thing for you. Here are some tips for making the transition to a “new you”:
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
I know I keep beating this drum, but you need to be completely honest with the other person. Oddly enough, setting boundaries can make you feel a little bit vulnerable. Do it anyway.
Never Make Assumptions
Communication is about more than just setting boundaries. It’s also about understanding the other person’s intentions. For example, someone who frequently interrupts you may be hard of hearing, and may not even know they’re doing it. Before calling someone out on their behavior, ask them about it!
Enforce Your Boundaries
When you set boundaries, you need to follow through. If a person crosses one of your lines, you need to follow up with any promises. For example, if you told someone you would have to leave a meeting at four o’clock and they want to keep going, then leave. Do not let them violate your time boundaries.
Of course, you may need to make exceptions. If someone is having a heart attack, they don’t need your permission to use your phone to call 911.
If someone keeps violating your boundaries, ask yourself if you’ve enabled that behavior in the past. This doesn’t make it okay. But it can help you find some peace in the situation.
Know When to Call it Quits
Some relationships just aren’t fixable. Maybe one of your new boundaries is a dealbreaker for the other person. Maybe they simply refuse to respect your boundaries. In those situations, it might be time to move on.
Again, this doesn’t only apply to romantic relationships. Friendships can be just as toxic, and family relationships even more so.
45 Setting Boundaries Quotes to Inspire You
Need more incentive to set firm boundaries? Here are 45 setting boundaries quotes to give you motivation:
1. “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” - Maya Angelou
2. “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” - Harvey Fierstein
3. “Don’t compromise yourself – you’re all you have.” - John Grisham
4. “Great people have one thing in common: they do not conform.” - P.K. Shaw
5. We conform to pain until we don’t notice it anymore; it’s what you call ‘numb’ and it tragically blots out our pleasure too.” - Bryant McGill
6. “You have the right to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty.” - Manuel J. Smith
7. “The boundaries of your life are merely a creation of the self.” - Robin Sharma
8. “Conformity begins the moment you ignore how you feel for acceptance.” - Shannon L. Alder
9. “It’s a fact that you’re going to have a different opinion or view on certain topics or issues. You need stand your ground by sharing your view.” - Michael Barbarulo
10. “Be assertive, in speech and in conduct.” - Lailah Gifty Akita
* Jot down what inspires you to create healthy boundaries with this mindfulness journal!
11. “Walls keep everybody out. Boundaries teach them where the door is.” - Mark Groves
12. “A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not be being true to yourself.” - Steve Maraboli
13. “Speak in your own voice about the things that matter to you.” - Marty Rubin
14. “Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.” - Eckhart Tolle
15. “You are not what others think you are. The important thing isn’t what other people think you are; it’s who you are.” - Shannon L. Alder
16. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘No’ to almost everything.” - Warren Buffett
17. “The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.” - Tara Brach
18. “So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” - Sylvia Plath
19. “What we believe in our heart, we must declare with our mouth.” - Lailah Gifty Akita
20. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” - Bernard M. Baruch
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21. “Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” - Gerard Manley Hopkins
22. “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” - Clay Shirky
23. “We need people who push boundaries rather than retreat inside them.” - Tim Fargo
24. “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” - Robert Frost
25. “Many times in life I’ve regretted the things I’ve said without thinking. But I’ve never regretted the things I said nearly as much as the words I left unspoken.” - Lisa Kleypas
26. “When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” - Shannon L. Alder
27. “No one will listen to us until we listen to ourselves.” - Marianne Williamson
28. “In the midst of great joy, do not promise anyone anything. In the midst of great anger, do not answer anyone’s letter.” - Chinese proverb
29. “You get what you tolerate.” - Henry Cloud
30. “It is necessary, and even vital, to set standards for your life and the people you allow in it.” - Mandy Hale
*Create your calm with this mindfulness journal!
31. “Boundaries and risk management are very important parts of living a healthy and positive life.” - Bryant McGill
32. “Boundaries are just made of brick and cement.” - Nikita Dudani
33. “Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.” - Rachel Wolchin
34. “Choose to be pro-active, assertive and self-defining.” - Bryant McGill
35. “Set and enforce your personal boundaries.” - Jonathan Lockwood Huie
36. “Boundary setting is really a huge part of time management.” - Jim Loehr
37. “Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.” - Edwin Louis Cole
38. “I encourage people to remember that ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” - Gavin de Becker
39. “We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or cruel when we speak our truths.” - Melody Beattie
40. “Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.” - Doreen Virtue
41. “When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” - Paul Coelho
42. “People who violate your boundaries are thieves. They steal time that doesn’t belong to them.” - Elizabeth Grace Saunders
43. “Staying silent is like a slow growing cancer to the soul. There is nothing intelligent about not standing up for yourself. You may not win every battle. However, everyone will at least know what you stood for – You.” - Shannon L. Alder
44. “Honoring your own boundaries is the clearest message to others to honor them, too.” - Gina Greenlee
45. “Boundary setting helps you prioritize your needs over other people’s wants.” - Lauren Kenson
When we set boundaries, we set ourselves up for better mental and emotional health. Our mental health is a huge part of a healthy lifestyle, which makes it important to look after.
It’s not always easy to set boundaries, particularly when you’re not used to it. Saying “no” can be scary, until you realize that you’re actually saying “yes” to yourself. And once you’ve looked after yourself, you’ll have more freedom to live a connected life, with relationships that are truly meaningful.
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