Setting Boundaries

How often do you agree to do something you don’t want to do because you don’t know how to say no? How many unwelcome behaviours have you tolerated to keep the peace instead of confronting the other person? If you experience these issues, it’s time to think about setting boundaries.

A personal boundary is a clear line which says “this is where my space begins and you’re not welcome in here.”

Anger is a signal

Anger is the clearest warning signal that someone has crossed your personal boundaries. A colleague asks you to do something and your eyes narrow while you think “Wait a minute, bozo, that’s your job not mine!” or an acquaintance criticises your doodles as amateurish while you seethe in anger wondering who gave her the right to judge your efforts when she’s no artist herself.

Most of us keep this anger to ourselves, trying to keep the peace. The result is a growing resentment of the other person, which eventually erupts in an outburst that’s out of proportion to the trigger. Deal with your emotions before they reach this breaking point.

Setting your boundaries

Instead of hiding your anger or reacting to it, use it as a signal to do something so that the next time it happens, you have a prepared response. Setting boundaries has two parts:

1. Stating clearly where the boundary lies

2. Deciding on your response if the boundary is crossed.

Stating your boundary

It helps to write down your boundary very specifically. Use “I” sentences rather than “you” accusations. After all, the boundaries are yours and the other person cannot be expected to know what they are.

“I have many deadlines to meet and don’t have the time or energy to help you out.”

“I feel that you have no right to criticise my efforts.”

“I get irritated when you boss me around and tell me what to do.”

Deciding on your response

While you cannot prevent others from crossing your boundaries, you can decide what you will do the next time it happens. Having a prepared response helps you to keep calm and stay in control.

Sometimes telling the person your boundary is enough to prevent it from happening again. This approach works if both parties are mature and value the relationship. However, sometimes the other person continues to cross your boundary.

In this case, you may have to use a verbal or physical response. Make sure you do this quietly and calmly. Show the other person that you are in control, not them.

“I have many deadlines to meet and don’t have the time or energy to help you out. If you keep asking me to help I’m afraid I will have to start ignoring your requests.” 

“I feel that you have no right to criticise my efforts. If I want your feedback in future I’ll be sure to ask you.” Or simply stand up and walk away once the criticism starts.

“I get irritated when you boss me around and tell me what to do. If you ask nicely, I’ll listen and accede to your request if I can.” Or smile sweetly the next time you’re bossed around, and pretend you didn’t hear anything.

Setting boundaries gets easier

Many of us find such responses confrontational and so avoid setting boundaries until we’re near breaking point. By that time our responses come across as anger or sarcasm. Or we stonewall and avoid the person altogether and lose a friendship.

As with all things, the first time is the hardest. Practice makes it easier. So pick a boundary that you feel has been crossed too often, and decide on your response right now. Next time you sense someone crossing the boundary, practise your response quietly and calmly.

If you need more help setting boundaries, try this book which has helped over 4 million people.

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10 replies on “Setting Boundaries”

Thanks for another great post. So simple, yet life-changing. I’ll definitely be spending more time reading your blog.

To be honest, for a long time, I have had a hard time with making my boundaries clear. I feared rejection and tried to give in; not realizing that anger would build up. Later on, as I learned to assert myself, I realized the importance of setting boundaries clear in the first place.


The bubble image works for me! I’m imagining all of us floating around in our little bubbles and as long as others don’t burst our bubbles and vice versa, it’s a happy world 🙂

Hi Daphne .. good to see you again .. it’s better to be prepared than to be taken by surprise and ready with your response.

It’s laughing too at the request and making light of the problem they’re having, and you might be having .. setting a .. well I need to finish this – then I can perhaps help you – will that be ok?

Difficult to set boundaries sometimes .. step back and not react so much too .. or ask if they want to join in & help you ..

It is becoming non-confrontational that is so helpful in these circumstances – I react .. but try not to .. sometimes so irritatingly difficult!

Thanks .. have a good weekend .. Hilary

@ Christopher,

Glad you like the blog’s byline. “Speak gently” is something I’m still working on, and hence the topic of this post. You’re right indeed about wisdom and loving ourselves. Sometimes loving ourselves requires us to tell others that certain behaviours towards us are not acceptable. Thanks much for dropping by!

@ Hilary,

Hello my faithful old friend. It warms my heart to see you here. I like your expression to laugh at the request. I must learn to do that instead of getting irritated, especially when it keeps happening! Hope all is well with you and your Mum.

Hi Daphne, I came across your blog recently and was attracted to your byline. Your post today interests me because of my devotion to personal fulfillment. Setting boundaries is a key to growing personally and I think you covered the basics quite well.

Knowing when to submit or express is a kind of wisdom born of experience; knowing how to do either requires intelligence and courage; and knowing that you’re entitled to make this choice, no matter the person or situation, is made so much easier when you know and love yourself.


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