How to Set Healthy Boundaries

By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c

Audio version | Click here


“I encourage people to remember that “No” is a complete sentence.” ~ Gavin de Becker

1. Identify current boundary crossers
The first step in setting healthy boundaries is identifying who it is that is the boundary crosser. How does this person make you feel? Most likely, telling this person how you feel will get you no where. They may even get satisfaction from hearing your plea. Remember, it is not uncommon for boundary crossers to be very purposeful in their boundary crossing behavior. This means they often know that they are doing it! If you feel taken advantage of, oppressed or bullied, it is important to make the conscious decision to change how you are interacting with them. Keep in mind, none of this will happen overnight. But, it definitely won’t happen unless you decide with the utmost conviction that something needs to change.

2. Consider how your past influences your present
Were you taught to set healthy boundaries? If you are like many, you were never taught this fundamental rule of survival. Were you raised by oppressive or controlling parents? Were you bullied as a child? If you were, it is no surprise that you are struggling to set healthy boundaries with strangers, friends, co-workers or family members. Deep down in the depths of your unconscious there might be a sense of familiarity with being controlled, oppressed or bullied. Maybe you are used to it and even developed coping strategies to help tolerate this behavior. If setting healthy boundaries seems impossible to you then most likely it is because it is something very new and different. We can easily get complacent with how things are, especially when we feel like nothing we can do will make any difference. Don’t let your past hold you hostage just because you learned to tolerate it. You have waited long enough. It is time to stand up for yourself!

3. Prepare to be challenged by the boundary crossers
Prepare yourself to be confronted by the boundary crossers and their insecurities. People who ignore boundaries often do so to feel powerful at the expense of others. When you begin to assert yourself you will notice an obvious backlash. Know that they are just throwing a tantrum because you no longer make them feel powerful, assertive and significant. Keep in mind, boundary crossers are insecure at their core and need others to feel powerful. Every time you choose not to assert yourself, you are feeding the insatiable appetite of their deepest insecurities. Let the boundary crossers starve!

4. Be clear and direct
Most people avoid being clear and direct because they are afraid it will result in something bad. Being clear and direct takes practice. Work on asserting yourself a little bit everyday. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You have a right just like anyone else to stand up for yourself and to be heard. Stop letting your fear of the unknown (how others will react) keep you from expressing yourself. Life is too short to bite your tongue all the time.

5. Start small
The best way to practice setting boundaries is to start small. Start with someone other than the person who irritates you most. This will help you avoid any misfires in your attempt to be more assertive. Let the people you trust know that you are starting to work on setting healthier boundaries with others too. You might even inspire them to reflect on how they have been setting boundaries with others.


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130 responses to How to Set Healthy Boundaries

  1. Floating Speck says:

    Right on point ! This is a must read for me. It’s takes practice but I’m getting better at doing this . I think this article will be a must read for me at least once a week. Thank you !

    Liked by 13 people

  2. thelifeilive2016blog says:

    Very helpful! I just recently learned about boundaries in therapy but this had a different spin as in talking about the boundary crossers. I like it!

    Liked by 11 people

  3. Tanya Cliff says:

    Excellent advice. I have been working very hard on this with a close relative for the past year. This has given me some good ideas of how to do this more effectively and what to keep in mind. Thank you!

    Liked by 11 people

  4. You utilize your education well . I could see this as a catalyst for completion of your desired goal.

    You are absolutely correct ,regarding the “backlash ” effects of dealing with the “boundary crossers”.

    That takes a lot out of me in terms of getting back to being assertive. I have increased my distress tolerance levels, by allowing them to start it without letting them go too far,one way..which that way ends in disaster.

    Liked by 11 people

  5. sargondorsai says:

    The hardest part is identifying the boundary crossers, even when just considering yourself. A lot of us don’t recognize our own boundaries, let alone the people and/or activities that cross those boundaries.

    Discovery of oneself is usually the first step.

    Liked by 10 people

  6. sunnymirrors says:

    Thank you, it’s an ongoing process as it is not just about setting the boundaries but then also maintaining them in the way it is best for all the involved.Your post is something to re-read every now and then 🙂

    Liked by 9 people

  7. princessines says:

    I was definitely not taught this necessary skill and being educated with catholic nuns didn’t help either….now at the ripe age of 45 I pause before saying yes and use the ‘let me think and I ‘ll get back to you ‘ technique…..saying yes and then hating yourself and the other person is not healthy so let the other person hate me…I win 😉

    Liked by 10 people

  8. Walter says:

    Also don’t forget that like on Facebook in real life too you can unfollow and block. There is nothing wrong in removing toxic people one by one.

    Liked by 10 people

  9. Lorena says:

    Thank you Eric for pointing out that boundary crossers are purposely doing it. That hit’s a nerve of truth for me.

    Creating boundaries is the story of my life! The first 10 years out of college was learning that I’m worth protecting. Giving myself healthy feel good experiences in doses I could stand (because yes, feeling good was new to me and as you said uncomfortable).

    As feeling good became a new norm, I could only then more easily see the people that didn’t extend that state but stopped it dead in it’s tracts.

    Feeding myself with good experiences though was what gave me the power to apply all I read and mentally knew. Until then I was just top heavy with information.

    Liked by 10 people

  10. Margarita says:

    This is so helpful, Eric. Thank you!
    As the eldest of three siblings, I was taught that it was my responsibility to accede, give in, make the sacrifice, making my boundaries way too flexible. Your advice is very practical guidance to putting a little starch in that flexibility. Thank you! 😉 xoxoM

    Liked by 8 people

  11. me says:

    With points 1 through to 4 worked on along time ago, I lacked at point 5 … after a lifetime with with boundary busters at the helm- when I realised I could flex my own boundaries – I practiced on my in-laws! Needless to say, we don’t see much of each other anymore. Goal achieved 🙂

    Liked by 9 people

  12. Good Day!

    Thank you so much for this topic. It is an eye opener for me. I am working on making and keeping a healthy boundary with a good friend who seemed to take my actions quite differently and creating a healthy boundary will be really helpful.Truly appreciate this post.

    Liked by 7 people

  13. Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I need to work on all these. As one poster said, I also am the oldest of 4 siblings. So it’s no surprise that I’ve married a man who is the baby of his family. Reading these is very helpful.

    Liked by 7 people

  14. I prefer civil behavior and interactions. Unfortunately, not everyone cares about that.

    I’ve discovered – mostly in my sales career – that sometimes the growling/barking dog needs to get barked at. For some people, this is just their language.

    I’ve found that if I really pop off on someone who is being extremely rude, lying, or just outright abusive, they back off. Future interactions either cease (thank you) or they become more respectful, because they don’t want me going after them again.

    I rarely take this tack, but on the occasions when I do, it’s worked so far.

    Liked by 8 people

  15. Perhaps this post should truly be displayed in the hallways of high schools, universities, businesses. These are all teachable and strong points that so many people need to understand as well as emulate. I learned how to be direct in my first job after college. I worked for a newspaper where strong and assertive people were the norm. They were not particularly rude, but they were clear and to the point. I learned to stand my ground, to give my opinions, and to expect respect. Actually, I forgot that I was once a shy person! When I began teaching, I realized how much I utilized these lessons every, single day.

    Liked by 10 people

  16. Thank you for the good article. What I noticed is that I only started setting boundaries when I started loving and respecting myself. Setting boundaries is not building walls. Often the people in our lives who cross boundaries are there to help us grow – we can’t necessarily exclude them from our lives especially if they are family members but we can teach them how we want to be treated. With love.

    Liked by 9 people

  17. Rayne says:

    Thank you for this. My therapist and I were talking about me learning to set healthy boundaries with the people in my life. And that I must be careful about being too open with people right at the beginning and becoming too attached too fast (that’s where I’ve gotten into trouble). So this post is very timely. 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  18. Thank you for this post. I’ve recently started to set and enforce boundaries with someone and the backlash was incredible. What you described here was exactly what I experienced and it is very hard to deal with. This really helped and encouraged me in that what I did by setting boundaries was the right thing because you helped me understand the root of their reaction. I walked away from the tantrum and let them starve. This also helped me see that was ok and relieved some guilt I was feeling for doing that.

    Liked by 10 people

    • Diana says:

      I have trouble with the back lash too! There is only so much stick poking a person can take before they lash back. 🙂

      Liked by 5 people

  19. Nicely written and good tips. Personally I don’t struggle now, I did as a teen, and well, good thing we as humans have common sense and the sense of survival, otherwise I would still be bullied 😉 all steps do go in order 😉

    Liked by 7 people

  20. Oh my, I needed this!! I have just 2 days ago, decided I was sick and tired of my daughter treating me like her slave. Boundary crosser?? More like boundary pillage and destroyer!
    I will learn how to set and protect healthy boundaries! My very life depends on it! I’m so glad I came to check you out!

    Liked by 7 people

  21. I had to learn how to set boundaries in my marriage and with my mother. It took a nearly failed marriage for me to finally stand up and say no and share my true feelings. Wish I had learned it at a younger age!

    Liked by 9 people

  22. Diana says:

    Doing better at it. My horses have taught me a lot in this department (I feel a blog post coming on).
    I never learned healthy boundaries and was bullied. Have to start from ground zero and build on that. Takes time. Still learning, but much, much better!

    One thing I recently learned from one of my newest horses. Who is a mare and is a bully!

    A 800# horse roaring straight at you, ears flat back, with every intention of letting you know she is in charge, can quickly bring flashes of life ending, to the most experienced horse person. Which, by the way, I am a life long horse woman. This is not a common event with horses, so it was quite a surprise to me. Now, if it was coming from a person, not so surprised. 🙂

    What I learned.
    Stand your ground and most of all: Remain Calm!
    They are looking for weakness, bully people, and horses making determinations of their pecking order.
    They are insecure people (and yes, this horse is also insecure and domineering).
    With a horse you have to come back at them with a bigger, stronger presence. Which I did! However, that may not work so great with a person, and might even attract the men in white coats from the local crazy hospital. 🙂

    Great post! Succinct and very helpful information!
    Thank You for this one!

    Liked by 9 people

  23. findingmyway says:

    Reblogged this on FINDING.MY.WAY and commented:
    There are many days where I could use this! I just say yes to everything, even though I don’t want to be there, don’t want to try it.

    Liked by 6 people

  24. Reblogged this on The Disability Depot and commented:
    Here’s an excellent guide on eliminating boundary crossing. If you commonly feel like you’re being taken advantage of, you probably are and this is going to be an enlightening read for you. What most people fail to recognize is their own culpability in the situation. I’m by no means saying one should stew in their share of the responsibility; what I suggest is that you take responsibility instead, by following the excellent advice below.

    It’s tricky. It takes a lot of work and a little courage, but once you manage to sink the first success fence posts, you realize just how much more manageable life can become when you’re no longer everyone’s doormat. Of course, it’s much easier with the new people in your life than those who are accustomed to trespassing, but you will be pleasantly surprised how much others respect you when you show them how much you respect yourself and begin the regular practice of saying, “No.” If you’re a person living with an autoimmune condition that forces you to guard your energy stores like they’re the last bit of grain on the planet, you couldn’t do yourself any greater service.

    Liked by 8 people

  25. Found this post through The Disability Depot.

    I have an additional problem: I have CFS, very limited energy and very little ‘good time’ every day, which I use for writing novels (yes, it’s very slow).

    The people I love – the ones I live with – are my sole live humans most days, but they are also the source of all the interruptions.

    For various reasons, my daughter and husband aren’t big talkers, so when they interrupt to talk, I encourage them! Except that it often costs me my writing session that day.

    Competing goals and scarce resources.

    The solution is to get up early, and get my writing done before the interruptions start. I need to work harder on that (except that daughter comes in late and is chatty then). I think that if I shut them down I won’t have anyone to talk to, but if it was me with them, I’d be a lot more sensitive to time of day.

    Liked by 8 people

  26. boomergirl47 says:

    Very helpful and well expressed. I hate conflict so I tend to avoid setting clear boundaries. My boyfriend has no problem w/ conflict, so I’m getting plenty of opportunities to draw the line! It’s never too late!

    Liked by 7 people

  27. I agree. I learned in 2012 that I don’t owe people explanations. In fact, I don’t owe them a word if I don’t feel like it. If someone is being antagonistic, disrespectful, and they are demanding answers from me the only thing I owe is me and that is my right to walk away from a disrespectful situation. Good stuff.

    Liked by 8 people

  28. galeweithers says:

    Great food for thought which had to be shared in a world where many have no boundaries and will accept whatever from whoever whenever. Thanks for the tips … going to make sure my boundaries are secure and reinforced 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

    • boomergirl47 says:

      I had occasion to practice boundary setting yesterday. Had to walk a fine line btwn stinginess and generosity. Make sure I was saying yes from the right place. I think I got some guidance from under the radar.

      Liked by 5 people

  29. I honestly wish I had had the understanding and strength to do this with my Mum, she had moments of compassion and unadulterated love and others of manipulation and hurtful comments.

    Liked by 7 people

  30. janrssor says:

    Nice article and a very important topic. You are right about boundaries; way too many people have trouble defining boundaries and likely from lack of clear ones as a child. I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing Gavin de Becker (who you mention), when I was living in NY. He was kind enough to gift me some of his writing and a lot of other great material! He is a great person who really cares about others. Probably why he is so successful! His book “The Gift Of Fear” helps you perceive boundaries that you might otherwise not be aware of, boundaries that when crossed clearly indicate a danger to your life. Confronting boundary crossers is another story. Of course it depends upon the type of boundary crossed. Gavin’s are those indicative of danger, we need to respond strongly to. I have learned that the best success in avoiding conflict while “confronting” boundary crossers, who cross personal and social boundaries, is to use the Dale Carnegie approach and help them see why it benefits them to not cross my boundaries. It is also not a bad idea to have a concealed carry permit for other situations 🙂 Janr

    Liked by 6 people

    • boomergirl47 says:

      I’m learning to set boundaries w/o getting too pissed off! At least I’m setting them. One step at a time, right? And maybe it does the boundary crosser (depending on the situation) a little good to see some negative consequences from stepping over the line. However, I’d like to eventually be more Ghandi-like. 🙂

      Liked by 5 people

      • janrssor says:

        One of the sometimes unexpected benefits of communicating with people you feel have crossed your boundaries is that you define and redefine yourself. You actually may get to know and love yourself much more. In this process your relationships change and people you know perceive you almost as if you have had a physical makeover. A lady friend helped me learn about discovering and defining my boundaries and in so doing helped me save my marriage. It is a very powerful tool.

        Liked by 8 people

  31. Cynt says:

    Thank you for this post. I always tell people you are treated the way you allow people to treat you. I forget there are many people who do not have the necessary skills to say no or ask for what they want and need. I hope people who lack these skills, recognize themselves in a post like this and maybe, begin to make small changes to challenge the people around them.

    Liked by 5 people

  32. I liked the phrase boundary crossers. I never thought of people in that manner and it certainly puts their actions in perspective. Interesting, so thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

  33. Diana says:

    A friend of mine the other day said something that still rings with me. And as you stated in this article.
    “There are so many bounderless people in this world”. Boundaryless! She said in exasperation. I laughed with her, as I too could identify with her frustrations.

    Bless her heart and efforts for setting boundaries, when the boundaryless people walked right past over them.

    Liked by 7 people

  34. Ive made a point to say “No, thank you” as a way of asserting my boundaries. People always want to push their ideals on you if you allow them. “Do this to feel better… dont worry be happy…” To which I reply “No, thank you” Which to me means, no, I wont subscribe to your mode of thinking, thank you for your input.

    Liked by 6 people

  35. bdeckard92 says:

    This is great, we must remain mindful of our tendencies to cross boundaries. I know mine come from some abuse when I was small. I repeat those actions if I’m not careful and no matter how small these trespasses start out they could all be potentially harmful. The harm comes not only to me but also to those who push my boundaries. Very good reminder, Thanks!

    Liked by 5 people

  36. Great post!!! I have spent years trying to do it, but it seemed my only recourse was in essence ending the relationship. No may be a complete sentence, but many people have a convenient hearing barrier to that word.

    Liked by 6 people

    • PattyAnn says:

      Unfortunately, my only recourse was to end the narcisstic relationship in my life as well; but doing that has made me stronger and better equipped to deal with people who want to control me.

      Liked by 3 people

  37. PattyAnn says:

    Great post, especially for someone like me, who for years dealt with a narcisstic family member who was forever crossing boundaries and making my life a living hell. It took me almost twenty years to get to the place where I could finally set boundaries with this person, and no longer allow them to control me!

    Liked by 5 people

  38. DGHDelgado says:

    Love the opener. I say No all the time. It’s always easier to change your mind later and say Yes.
    Boundaries are so needed in new marriages too. Gentle boundaries.

    Liked by 6 people

  39. babl says:

    I plan to reblog your post in my blog https://hellocreativestimes.com. Since you have enabled reblogging on your post, I am assuming that you are allowing others to reblog this post. However, if you have any objection to reblogging your post, please let us know as soon as possible. Thank you.
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  40. krysd says:

    This is simple and to the point. I learnt the hard way (as I suspect most people do) that I had a problem with setting healthy boundaries through domestic violence. Through years of education and listening I have found this to be a common factor among all abusive relationships. More education around this idea in highschools may be an interesting thing.

    Liked by 5 people

  41. Great advice for managing healthy relations. When it comes to the habit of pleasing others at the cost of ones own wellbeing, this is the best practice to respect our own needs to keep that balance.

    Liked by 5 people

  42. Lovely read 🙂 There are so many boundary crossers one comes around in everyday life and at times you are led to believe that’s how the “World” functions. This was a good action plan and the repercussions on the path to remove these boundary crossers 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  43. Great advice indeed. People are usually afraid of setting boundaries because there is something they require from the other party, a need they can’t meet in other ways. The sad truth is, boundary crossers know that and use it to their benefit.

    Liked by 4 people

  44. Thank you for sharing your wisdom Eric! I need to practice setting healthy boundaries in my relationships. I like #3 where you stated, “Let the boundary crossers starve!” Have a wonderful, peaceful day! ~dp

    Liked by 2 people

  45. JESSY ROSE says:

    I loved this, well done 🙂 I think a lot of people forget that being submissive can be a learn’t behaviour from your past without even realsiing it!

    Liked by 2 people

  46. I love this post. Someone once said to me – “like a strong country, to protect yourself against invasion, you need to set firm boundaries. Otherwise, you’ll be a fail state.” Your point about the boundary crossers is so true. I am trying to be more assertive and to say “no” as a complete sentence, but it does trigger quite strong reactions sometimes. Staying firm and standing your ground is so important. Keep up the great content!

    Liked by 2 people

  47. Excellent article! The part about familiarity was powerful, our pasts do deeply impact us. As soon as I realized I was the one who felt so comfortable with boundary crossers was when I could tackle setting stronger boundaries and choosing healthier people for my life. You are helping me think and grow, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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  1. […] How to Set Healthy Boundaries by MakeItUltra™ is short and simple, but has great information. Abuse always involves some type of crossing of boundaries, whether physical, mental or emotional. I also appreciate the positive outlook of the posts on his blog. So much of the information out there has a doom-and-gloom feel, and it’s nice to read useful information that’s also uplifting. […]

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