Do healthy relationships have boundaries? YES. YES. YES! All healthy relationships need boundaries. It doesn’t matter if the healthy relationship is between you and your parents, children, spouse, partner, sibling, coworker, neighbor, etc. We all need boundaries to live healthy lives.
But that’s much easier said than done. Far too often, we go our whole lives without establishing clear boundaries for ourselves. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Because if you’re like me, you may believe that you need to be there and available to everyone, especially those you care about, in order to be seen as “good.”
I was always taught that being “good” meant putting everyone else’s needs before my own. I was taught that to do anything less was “selfish.” And is there a dirtier word out there than “selfish?” So, when I started learning about boundaries and began to put them into place in my life, in the beginning, I felt cruel, heartless, and ashamed.
I felt like I was going to hyperventilate when I first tried to say, “I understand that’s what you want, but that doesn’t work for me.” But that’s what it takes. By the way, you will never be able to truly love yourself or prioritize your own goals if you do not set boundaries. So yes, you gotta learn this skill.
There’s a lot to be said and a lot to learn about boundaries. In this article, I’m going to discuss the importance of healthy boundaries, provide examples of healthy and unhealthy boundaries, and share strategies for how you can establish boundaries for yourself once and for all!
What Are Healthy Boundaries and Why Are They Important?
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone violates those boundaries. Unfortunately, many of us—myself included—didn’t have excellent role models when it came to boundaries. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to set healthy boundaries ourselves!
Boundaries help separate us from other people. They help us craft our own identity and give us space to be ourselves. Boundaries are needed to maintain your mental and emotional health, and they prevent burnout that comes from people-pleasing, being too giving, and putting everyone’s needs before your own. Anyone else feel completely exhausted by the needs and wants of the people in your life? Yep! I’ve been there so many times too, and much of that boiled down to not having clear boundaries between myself and others.
And without clear boundaries, it’s easy to forget where you end and another person begins. It’s easy to forget that your decisions are your decisions, your desires are your desires, and so on. It’s easy to forget when your boundaries have been blurry that you have a right to be—and are—a whole complete human being unto yourself.
Setting your own boundaries and ensuring those around you (including your loved ones!) respect them is no small task, and it often sends people running in the other direction. So, let’s discuss why they are so important.
When you don’t have established personal boundaries (because you don’t know what they are or where to start), it’s easy to get burnt out saying yes to everything and everyone. Without boundaries, people and the outside world intrude. It’s why houses have doors. Without a door, suddenly, your living room becomes your neighbors’ living room. Without personal boundaries protecting your energy and wellbeing, it’s easy to get sucked into feeling and believing that your energy is everyone else’s energy—to be used and exploited on a whim.
Burnout is serious, and it cruelly affects our mental health. When you’re burnt out, you’re prone to sudden mood swings, 24/7 fatigue and exhaustion that no amount of sleep can fix, loneliness and detachment, and steady feelings of grumpiness, indifference, and resentment.
Being burnt out also means you’re more prone to getting sick. And a stuffy nose is no cure for the grumps! 🤧
If you’re a mother, I bet you’ve been here before. You’ve fed the kids, set them up in front of Paw Patrol, and now you’re going to step outside for five minutes. Just five minutes so you can clear your head and get back inside.
You’ve just closed the door and gulped your first breath of fresh air all day. Then you hear the door open behind you. Your son can’t find his fire truck. You tell him you just need five minutes. Five minutes and you’ll help him find it. But in your son’s mind, Mommy has no boundaries. His wish is your command. You repeat yourself ten times until your son starts screaming. At this point, the neighbors are outside, and you don’t need them thinking you’re a terrible mother. So you give up and head back inside. Once more unto the breach, dear moms.
You need a break! We all do (but especially moms!) When our energy is constantly demanded by other people in our life, nothing is left for us, and we’re left feeling perpetually grouchy, lonely, tired, and maybe even sick.
Avoid Anger and Resentment
Eventually, your burnout and stress can boil over into anger and resentment. You might lash out and find yourself not acting like your nice, sweet self, which can easily cause feelings of guilt and shame, making you feel like a monster. And this behavior can seem amplified in the eyes of your family, friends, and coworkers because they’re used to you always being so nice and saying yes to everything.
When you suddenly turn on them after agreeing to help them, it can be shocking. Like when you finally find a groove at work but your chatty coworker knocks on your door yet again to tell you about their weekend, or when you’re organizing a family get-together with your siblings and your sister asks you to cover the side dish she was responsible for. You find yourself thinking, and then almost screaming, Leave me ALONE! Do it YOURSELF!
People may begin to feel like they need to walk on eggshells around you so they don’t provoke your anger, which will leave you feeling more lonely and detached than you already do. On one hand, you feel horrible, but on the other, you feel justified. Neither makes you feel good or kind or loving.
It’s better for everyone that you prioritize your boundaries before it gets to this point. Because of course you don’t mind helping—you love your family and friends, and making a co-worker or boss shine puts a smile on your face every time. But enough is enough! Prioritize your boundaries so that you don’t lose sight of who you are. You’re not a grouch; you’re a loving mother, a loyal friend, a dedicated coworker, a caring boss, a driven entrepreneur—but you can’t be everything at once for all time. You’ll be no good to anyone if you’re running on fumes.
Develop a Personal Identity
Here’s the truth. Without strong personal boundaries, you don’t have any personal autonomy, which means you won’t know where you start and where your family and friends begin. You’re not Samantha; you’re Jason’s mother. You’re not Brian; you’re Steve’s friend. You’re not Lisa; you’re your company’s best employee.
You may be those things, but you’re YOU before you are anything else. What do you like? What don’t you like? How do you prefer people to speak to you? At what time of day would you prefer people to reach out to you? How close can people stand to you? What nights of the week do you prefer to go out? Do you prefer tea or coffee? Do you like to host people at your house? Do you like to meet up on Zoom?
These are all simple things that shape a person’s personality and identity. If you don’t have any boundaries, then you become a chameleon, changing based on whoever you’re around. If you always say you don’t mind, people will believe you. They’ll decide what you do, what you eat, what you watch, what you read, and how often you organize the office sales contest. Your personal boundaries are what make you the unique person that you are.
It’s not selfish to have boundaries. In fact, it’s selfish NOT to have boundaries. Because if you’re not willing to care for yourself and your needs by putting healthy boundaries in place, you’re not helping others help you.
You’re not giving folks clear signals about what works for you, what makes you happy, what you like or don’t. They too are left having to guess, and since they don’t know what to guess, they guess based on what makes their life easy because let’s face it—you don’t seem to care either way. Because that’s what boundaries are: signals to the world that you respect, care for, and love yourself.
So come on. Say this with me:
“I am not selfish for setting boundaries.”
“I am NOT selfish for setting boundaries!”
“I AM NOT SELFISH FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES!”
So, now that we know how necessary boundaries are for our health as well as the wellbeing of our friends, family, coworkers, managers, and clients, what are some healthy boundaries that we can set for ourselves?
What are Examples of Healthy Boundaries?
Boundaries are different than needs. You must ensure your needs are met in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. Boundaries are like a line in the sand. They are declarations of the things you will absolutely not stand for.
I have a list of boundaries that I continually add to whenever my boundaries are infringed upon. I encourage you to make a list like this too. What basic boundaries do you want to put in place with the people around you? Yep—the people you love count too. In fact, the people you love are the most likely to overstep or violate your boundaries.
Here’s a list of Basic Boundaries from the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans:
YOU MAY NOT:
- Call me names.
- Ridicule or belittle me in private or public.
- Lie to me.
- Hit me or physically hurt me in any way.
- Be unfaithful to me.
- Spy on me.
- Say things that are purposely designed to make me doubt whether I am sane or normal.
- Use traumas in my past to emotionally manipulate me.
- Pressure me to cut ties with my family or friends.
- Stonewall me—refuse to communicate.
- Undermine me at my work or with my family or friends.
- Attempt to turn my children against me.
- Hurt my children in any way: physically, sexually, or mentally.
- Be overly critical, implying I don’t do anything right.
- Force me to have sex when I don’t want to.
- Blame me for the state of your life.
- Intimidate or threaten me.
Your list might not be the same, but it’s a good place to start. What boundaries from this list resonate with you? What boundaries that are important to you are missing from this list?
A good place to begin is to think about times when your boundaries were crossed. Let’s look at some signs of unhealthy boundaries.
Signs You Have Unhealthy Boundaries
- You don’t have any time to yourself.
- You have trouble separating your own identity from your family’s.
- You feel burnt out.
- You lack the time and energy to pursue your own dreams.
- You say yes whenever anyone asks you to do something.
- When you say no to anyone, you feel gut-wrenching guilt about it.
- People in your life call you names or speak down to you and you say nothing.
- People in your life know how to get exactly what they want from you.
- You think sex is your duty.
- You feel angry or resentful when your family or someone else asks something of you.
- You rarely set boundaries and don’t know what your basic boundaries are.
These are clearly unhealthy ways of living, but unfortunately, so many of us fall into these patterns. So, how do we break free from these patterns? Let’s talk about how to establish healthy boundaries in your life.
How to Establish Healthy Boundaries
You can hope all you want that the people around you will be respectful and have healthy boundaries, but only you can make sure you get the boundaries you need.
When was the last time you had space just for you? What does your own personal identity look like? Do you even remember what it’s like to separate yourself from your family? When was the last time your needs were met? Yep, I said YOUR NEEDS. Not the needs of your spouse, your children, your parents, or your boss—your needs.
Today, I will share a few important strategies about how you can regain control over your life and claim healthy boundaries between everyone, including those you love.
1. Identify and Prioritize Your Personal Needs
Imagine having all of your needs fulfilled, such as love, trust, safety, respect, honesty, and the like. How would your life be different if you knew what to say and how to say it without feeling consumed by self-doubt? What would it be like to feel powerful, loved, and respected all at once?
Do you know what your needs are? For some of you, the answer may come quickly. You might know immediately what your needs are. You might say, “Rhonda, I need Space, Comfort, Respect, and Support.” Are those needs being met? Do the important people in your life know what your needs are, and do they respect these needs?
If you’re not sure what your needs are, think about what you need in order to be happy and fulfilled. What things in life are most important to you? What makes you want to scream or pull your hair out if you don’t get it from other people? Some common needs include:
- Financial Stability
Once you know what your most important needs are, you can start to make sure they are being met. You must do this for yourself in order to gain the respect and boundaries you need to live the life your soul intended.™
Here’s the truth. If your needs aren’t being met, you are not honoring yourself, and you’re certainly not being loving to yourself. Earlier in this post, I discussed the risk of falling into anger and resentment. This WILL happen if you don’t ensure your needs are met.
Repeat after me:
“My needs matter.”
“My needs are important.”
“My needs are just as important as anyone else’s.”
“I must ensure my needs are met.”
You need to take responsibility for making sure your own needs are met. If you don’t do this, no one else will. And establishing a basic list of boundaries can help.
“My needs equal your needs.” – Rhonda Britten
And don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you won’t care for others at their time of need. In fact, taking care of my 86-year-old uncle recently reminded me that caring for him was tending to one of my most important needs: family. Did I give up some things to care for him for those six months? Yes. And I was happy to do it because I wanted to be with him. And I was able to do that because I put boundaries in place. Boundaries kept me sane and kept my uncle and I, and the rest of the family, on good speaking terms during a very difficult time.
2. Establish a List of Basic Boundaries
While we might think we will remember what our basic boundaries are, writing it down and creating a hard list gives us something to fall back on when things in our life get tough. When things get messy and complicated (and they always do!), you can look back on your list of boundaries to ensure you aren’t letting those old bad habits creep back into your life.
Your boundaries are the line in the sand that you will not allow to be crossed. What are the consequences for having your boundaries crossed? These are just as important. Depending on the boundary that’s been crossed, this could mean seeing some people in your life less or cutting someone out of your life entirely, or in the case of a boss or client crossing a boundary, it could mean cutting ties with the client, looking for a new career opportunity, or pursuing legal action.
Or, it may be like my client Vicki, whose boss always spoke down to her and everyone else in the office. Vicki came to me because she wanted to find another job. As we discussed her next career options, I also coached her on putting a boundary up with her boss who was an expert at demeaning her every move. Vicki ended up staying at her job because putting up clear boundaries with her boss worked.
If someone calls you names, spies on you, is unfaithful to you, or any number of terrible things that cross your basic boundaries, just like Vicki’s boss, they need to know about it. I know how difficult it can be to speak up to people in your life, especially those you care about, but you need to care about yourself too. I know it feels like you’re “confronting” them or being “mean,” but it only feels like a confrontation because you aren’t skilled at it yet. With practice, it will no longer be scary; instead, it will feel exhilarating and empowering.
If you struggle to speak up, I recommend you read my article How to Speak With Power and Authority: 5 Important Steps.
3. Learn How to Say No
People will keep asking and demanding and taking from you until you learn when and how to say no.
Wait a minute Rhonda… Shouldn’t I be giving back to others? Don’t I need to say yes to my kids, spouse, or parents in order to be seen as a good person?
Here’s a Rhonda Britten original: “Your ‘Yes’ means nothing if you can’t say ‘No’.”
When was the last time you said yes when you really wanted to say no? What was the cost of saying yes? Was there an immediate cost? Were there other less immediate costs that built up over time, like your mental health, lack of personal boundaries, or state of mind? The yes’s all add up. Long term, all of the times you say yes (when you really want to say no) can lead to you no longer having your own identity, living with anger and resentment, or total burnout.
All too often, our “yes” comes from a place of fear. We are scared of what will happen if we say no. We’re afraid people won’t see us as kind and selfless. We’re afraid of the response we’ll receive back. We’re afraid our self-esteem will diminish if we aren’t able to give everything to our loved ones. We’re afraid our family won’t love us as much if we say no.
We want to say yes because we want to be the hero. We want to be the favorite sister that dropped everything to help with a move or the favorite employee who always goes the extra mile for their client and never turns down extra work from their boss.
For your own health and wellbeing, you need to be able to say no, even (and especially!) to those you love. Saying yes all the time leads to fatigue, stress, irritability, and burnout. And in the end, what you were trying to avoid will happen. You will become unpleasant, unhappy, and unhealthy, which will alienate and push away the people you care about most. Being able to say no will establish healthy boundaries between you and the people you love.
Try this. Next time you are asked to do something, stop and think about it first. Say you will get back to that person tomorrow. Yes. Tomorrow… Don’t give up your time that easily by answering “yes” right away. Consult your calendar first. Can you realistically fit something else into your calendar? Next, take a deeper look at your own goals. Will their ask infringe on your own needs, goals, or health?
Being able to put your own needs first and say no takes practice. If you’re someone who struggles to say no, I suggest you read my deep dive article all about it. How to Say No to the People You Love covers why it’s so difficult to say no to loved ones and how to get better at honoring your own needs.
4. Communicate Effectively
It really all comes down to communication. No one is going to express your needs for you. And why is that? Because no one is able to read your mind!
Are you communicating your needs effectively? Do your loved ones understand your boundaries? Do they even know you have boundaries? You need to communicate. Open up and speak to the people you care about. Share what your boundaries are and why they are important to you. This is a good time to ask about their boundaries as well.
To establish boundaries with anyone in your life, you need to communicate them effectively. The key word here is “effectively.” Losing your temper and shouting about your boundaries only to walk back your outburst a few hours or a day later is not effective. Expressing yourself in this way makes it easy for people to dismiss what you say and chalk it up to a tantrum.
When my client Vicki decided to speak up to her boss, she started practicing by maintaining eye contact and taking deep breaths while saying things like, “Please do not call me stupid,” or “When you call me stupid, I feel disrespected. Do not call me that again.”
It was scary at first. Yet, her boss was the one who was unprepared for her to stand up for herself. He went silent because he didn’t know how to respond. After that, anytime he spoke to her in any derogatory way, she called him out in a powerful, unemotional, professional manner that made him stop and think. Eventually, he stopped treating her that way.
Here’s the twist in the story: Vicki ended up staying at her job for another two years. Because she spoke up, her boss started seeing her as capable. He started seeing her as an equal. He began to trust her with bigger and bigger projects. When she did leave, he told her she had a job whenever she wanted one.
5. Stay the Course Through the Uncomfortable
If you’re anything like me (and I’m sure many of you are!) boundaries weren’t something you learned growing up. So don’t be surprised if you feel guilty or ashamed when you first start speaking up for yourself. The first time you try something is never comfortable. It’s a new experience that you will need to get used to, and your body may not cooperate right away.
You may know in your head that you’re doing the right thing, but your hands may start to shake. You may start to cry. Your heart may start to race. All of these things are trying to convince you that you need to stop what you’re doing right now or else you will melt down.
But you are doing nothing wrong. Your body is responding to your brain creating a new neural pathway. Your brain has been wired to behave in a certain way for so long that deviating from that path is a complete shock to the system.
No matter how harshly your body is telling you to stop speaking, how sweaty your palms are getting, or how much you may feel like vomiting, you must stay the course.
Fear just wants you to shut up. Do not listen.
Healthy boundaries are so incredibly important. They affect your health, identity, and ability to love yourself. Stay the course and honor the boundaries you need and want. Change like this is never easy, but know that there’s always an open and accepting community here at Fearless Living to practice with until you become a boundaries pro.
How Do You Respect Healthy Boundaries for Other People?
Good work! If you’re still here, you’re sticking right with me. Boundaries are so important, which is why this is a long read. But there’s one more thing I want to cover: the boundaries of other people.
Why is it important to respect the personal boundaries of others? Other people need their boundaries respected just as much as you do. Now that you have a better understanding of just how important they are, you can get better at honoring the boundaries of those around you.
How can you do this? Here are a few pointers to follow:
- Actively listen to others. Pay close attention to the words they choose and pay even closer attention to their body language. Even if they say yes to something, their body language may indicate that they actually mean no.
- If you ask someone if they can help you with something, give them the space to say no.
- If you invite someone to an event, give them time to think about it before demanding an answer.
- Ask people if they need more space.
- When you are sharing your own needs and boundaries, ask the people you care for about theirs too.
- Don’t insert yourself (without being asked) into problems that don’t involve you.
- Stop trying to control everyone around you. They need to be able to make their own decisions.
- Watch for signs of burnout in the people you care about.
Healthy people respect boundaries, and they ensure their own boundaries are enforced. I encourage you to pay close attention to your own boundaries. Set basic boundaries and adhere to them—by the way, boundaries can only be boundaries if there are consequences when your basic boundaries are crossed. It’s in your best interest as well as the best interest of those around you if you are given the time and space to craft your own identity, manage your health, and practice self-care.
You Don’t Need to Go It Alone
Setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them is tough to do, especially when it’s been so long since you had any. In fact, many of us have never had healthy boundaries, as we were never taught them growing up. It’s time for that to change.
Living a healthy life with boundaries is just the beginning. Join a community of humans who are all trying to live a life free from fear. My 10-week Fearless Living Training Program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear. With Fearless Living, you’ll learn how to define your needs, set clear boundaries, and reach your full potential. It’s time to begin living the life your soul intended.™