How To Set And Maintain Personal Boundaries

Last updated on : June 18 2021

A close up macro shot of two girls with blue eyes accepting close boundaries

Personal boundaries offer us many benefits from better self-esteem to greater independence and confidence. They also allow us to conserve our emotional energy and are essential for our wellbeing, health, and safety.

What Are Personal Boundaries

Personal boundaries are the limits that we set for ourselves with other people. They define what kinds of behaviors and interactions we find acceptable or not. Creating proper boundaries involves developing a healthy sense of self-value and self-worth.

We can separate boundaries into the following types: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual. The boundaries we have in each of these areas, identify our needs and rights and our intrinsic sense of self-worth.

Why It Can Be Hard To Set Boundaries

Knowing your boundaries is only the first step. Enforcing them and following through is a much more complicated process. Very often, this behavior requires practice and is a skill you need to learn.

As with so much else in human social interaction and learning, boundary-setting also comes, in part, from modeled behavior.

To have the confidence to set your boundaries and follow through with them, you need a good role model whose behavior you can observe and, over time, imitate and use to inform your own.

If you haven't been taught boundaries as a child or failed to have them respected, then you may struggle to set them as an adult.

Sometimes we can also find it hard to set boundaries and stick with them for fear of how others might see us. Often, we don't want to jeopardize our relationships (personal or professional), and so we might put other's needs first, by breaking a boundary. 

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How to Set Boundaries

Now you understand a little more about boundaries. You will know that they help us to connect positively with others. And that they provide ethical rules to guide us successfully in our relationships.

Use these steps to inform your choice of boundaries. 

1. Identify The Boundaries You Have

The first step is to identify what boundaries you have.

Take time to scrutinize your past experiences and identify situations in which you felt discomfort, frustration, or anger towards an individual. These are the circumstances where you tested your boundaries, either successfully or not. 

Your boundaries are likely to evolve and change over time as your experiences grow and develop. Don't be afraid to adjust them to reflect this, ensuring that you remain true to yourself and the person you want to be. 

2. Be Assertive

For your boundaries to be effective, you need to follow-through. Don't be afraid to tell someone when they crossed one. Whether it's a personal or professional situation, be assertive.

If you're not ordinarily assertive, start with something small. For example, if a waitress brought you the wrong order, tell her, and ask her to deliver what you ordered. If a friend has said or done something to hurt you, invite them to meet you and explain to them why their actions upset you.

When you behave this way, while still being kind and courteous, it displays confidence and high self-esteem. These are rare traits not often seen in individuals, and valuable as a result. 

3. Say No

While it may seem daunting, it's perfectly acceptable for you to say 'No.'

You can say no without needing to provide any further information or excuses to the person receiving your answer. One of the most empowering things you can do is to say no to people and not worry about it. Provided you are courteous, this behavior is acceptable and doesn't mean that you're horrible or offensive.

We're living in a society where we can feel pressured to say yes to people. Yes, I can host that meeting, or yes, I'll take you to the airport are good examples. Of course, you can do things for people and help those you love, that's not a problem.

What is a problem is when you put yourself and your wellbeing on the backburner to please others. Once you start saying no, you'll begin to see such a big difference in your life, especially with how much more people respect you.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Being assertive and affirming your boundaries takes time and practice.

Remember, by setting your boundaries and practicing sticking to them, you are valuing yourself and your own needs in a way that is respectful and courteous to others.

It is only by telling someone that they have crossed your boundaries that you can set better ones for yourself.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Ignore

Providing you have voiced your boundaries and courteously asserted yourself, if someone continues to disrespect you, then it is acceptable for you to ignore any further communication with them from that point onwards, or even block them.

You mustn't lose self-esteem by continuing a relationship that is bad for you.  

6. Focus on Your Feelings

How you feel about something is a reliable indicator of what you want, what makes you happy, and how you see yourself. Tune into these feelings when setting your boundaries. 

Don't accept a boundary that leaves you feeling unhappy or disappointed, and less of the person you are. 

Reflecting on how you feel may sound like basic stuff. But so many people are out of sync with their emotions and ignore them while "trying to do the right thing," particularly when peer pressure is involved. 

Next time you're in any given situation, try to tune into your feelings and emotions and see what they are saying. Trust them. 

7. Keep Your Clarity Of Mind

It's essential to make sure you're not reactive and keep your clarity of mind. It is easy to let past conditioning drive your behavior before you have time to think through the consequences properly.  

For example, if someone asks you to drive them to the airport, but you have a big meeting you need to prepare for, your conditioned mind might make you say yes because you don't want to let that person down.

However, if you tune into your emotions, they may be saying this is a bad idea because you need to prepare for the big meeting, and would be much better if you said no.

If you're ever in a situation and you don't know what to say, most of the time, tuning into yourself and allowing clarity of mind will give you the answer you need.

8. Take into Account Your Past

When you were a child, your parents or caregivers treated you a certain way resulting in behavior that stays with you through your life. An example of this is the button test.

If every time you press a blue button, you receive a treat, you will love blue buttons and actively seek them out. On the other hand, if you received a small electric shock, you would likely steer clear of them.

This conditioning can drive your behavior, whether it is proper behavior or not. And it might result in you saying yes to things you should say no to or vice versa.

Past conditioning is a hard habit to break; many of the decisions you make are unconscious because it's what you've always done. To break this conditioning, you may need the assistance of a professional therapist.

For example, if someone abused you sexually as a child, you may have abnormal boundaries when it comes to sexual activity. In later life, with someone you trust, you'll need to talk through these issues to have a greater understanding of how to deal with them.

When you're setting new boundaries, it's all about rewiring your brain and creating new habits that reflect the limits you want to make.

9. Look After Yourself

The final point is to make sure you're looking after yourself and giving self-care the priority it deserves. Looking after yourself means putting yourself first, not undermining your self-esteem, and treating yourself with respect. It also means being able to look at the processes you're going through in a positive light.

Setting new boundaries is not easy, especially when relating to the people we love and care for the most. Accepting these new changes can be tough.

At no point does this mean you shouldn't be looking after yourself. Remind yourself that you're setting these boundaries so you can become a better version of yourself and the best person you can be.


silhouette of person holding flaming torch protecting boundary

It can take time, practice, and self-awareness to make yourself and your boundaries a priority. It can be harder still to be confident and assertive enough to follow-through with them. Yet, setting effective boundaries not only allows us to develop our self-esteem and sense of self-worth but also enables us to build quality relationships with others.

Remember, get support from others or a professional if you need it. You don't have to go through this changing process alone. The more help you can have, the easier the transition will be good luck!

Bonus Read: Why Women Lose Attraction For Men And What To Do About It

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