A boundary is any limit you set as a means of honouring your own well-being so you can live, love, and work with integrity and without resentment.  Everyone’s boundaries differ, and boundaries are subject to change – you might have once felt comfortable giving to another without resentment, but your circumstances might have altered, now requiring more time, money, emotional or mental energy than what feels comfortable or even possible to give to another. You cannot ignore a boundary without paying a price.  If resentment towards another arises, use this as a tool that something within you needs to change (this shift of perspective is empowering – we cannot change others, but we do have control over our own reactions and behaviours to irksome things).  Other people ignoring our boundaries is not what causes us to get angry – what upsets us the most is when we do not practice self-respect and self-compassion by honouring our own boundaries.  When what we feel and what we do do not align, this is the cause of tremendous personal distress.  Learning to recognize and honour your boundaries before resentment builds, helps keep us healthier and happier. 

Why People Have Boundary Problems

What prevents people from honouring their own boundaries:

  • People do not wish to be seen as selfish/self-centred
  • People do not wish to hurt others
  • People having such a strong desire for belonging and to be accepted by others that they give at great personal cost
  • People having a fear of conflict or rejection
  • People placing too much pressure on themselves to please (out of guilt/unrealistic sense of obligation)  

What prevents people from honouring other people’s boundaries:

  • People desire to feel important/to “matter”
  • People fear being taken advantage of (and unconsciously project this fear by taking advantage of others)
  • A person often has never had healthy boundary-setting modeled to them and cannot accurately identify a boundary; therefore, they do not know how to honour it to reflect respect of others, personal integrity, and foster authentic collaboration with others

Learning to feel comfortable in asserting healthy boundaries is a learning process, but the payoffs are invaluable.  Practicing healthy boundaries increases your overall well-being by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, anger, feelings of disempowerment and isolation, rumination, and maladaptive coping behaviours such as substance misuse and disordered eating.  Healthy boundary-setting enhances relationships and trust with yourself and others and reduces somatic ailments such as headaches and stomach aches that often accompany mental and emotional distress. 

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

Putting yourself down

Not noticing boundary violations

Trusting no one – trusting anyone (black and white thinking)

Going against personal values or rights to please another person

Falling apart so someone will take care of you

Expecting others to fill your needs automatically

Letting others describe/create your reality

Letting others define you

Allowing yourself to be held back by another’s insecurities

Allowing yourself to be pressured to give in (“if you really loved me”; “I would do ___________ for you”)

Taking on the blame/shame for another’s problems

Allowing someone to take as much as they can from you

Giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving

Only being the “giver” in a relationship and never playing the role of “receiver”

Allowing people to touch you when it is not welcomed

Being sexual for your partner, never for yourself

Falling in love with someone who reaches out

Accepting food, gifts, touch, acts of service that you do not want

Fixating on a person

Talking at an intimate level upon first meeting someone

Finding yourself experiencing chronic oppression and abuse from others

Finding yourself coping in harmful ways (food, drug, alcohol abuse, cutting, promiscuity)

Signs of Healthy Boundaries

Knowing who you are and what you want

Saying “no” without guilt

Moving step-by-step into intimacy

Prioritizing your own well-being and growth (“you can’t pour from an empty cup”)

Maintaining personal values and beliefs despite what others want

Noticing the “red flags” when someone invades your boundaries (we can usually feel a sense of unease in our body)

Revealing a little of yourself at a time, then checking to see how the other person responds to your sharing

Defining your own truth; honouring your intuition (if something feels wrong, it generally is); trusting your decisions

Noticing and addressing boundary violations

Weighing the consequence before acting on sexual impulse

Being sexual when you want to be sexual – concentrating on connection and your own pleasure rather than monitoring reactions of your partner

Practicing self-compassion – treating yourself with the care, tenderness, respect, and humour that you would someone you love

Clearly communicating your wants and needs (accepting the fact that you may be turned down)

Recognizing that friends, partners, and family members are not mind-readers

Learning to give yourself the nurturance you may not have received in childhood, thus increasing self-worth

Taking responsibility for your own happiness & not feeling responsible for someone else’s happiness

Feeling supported to pursue your own goals

Remember: It is not selfish to prioritize yourself.  In fact, you can be a more effective giver and healthier individual by learning to say “no”.  People-pleasing habits aren’t just draining, they cause us to experience burnout and lead to mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual dis-ease. 

For more on this topic, watch what Brené Brown’s research has evidenced on boundaries – “boundaries are frickin’ important!”: