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Create a Healthy and Happy Life with Effective Boundaries

Do you ever think, “When is it going to be my turn?” Do your needs come last—after the needs of your spouse, your children, work, community service, in-laws, siblings, friends, and pets? My needs always used to come last. As a young adult, I remember rarely having time or energy for myself and what was important to me. It was very disheartening. And it took me years of conscious effort to replace my well-practiced compliance and pleasing with strong boundaries that supported my life and relationships.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes     Estimated time to master: a lifetime! 😊

A couple leaning against a fence

Why Are Boundaries Important?

Boundaries hold our view of self and the world. In the physical world, we have fences to distinguish property lines. These make it very clear where one person’s property ends and another person's begins. But personal boundaries are not as clearly defined physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This makes things tricky in our interpersonal relationships.

When we have healthy boundaries, we communicate clearly what we want and don’t want. We make decisions that allow us to thrive and be at our best. If we are without boundaries or they need developing, we often feel drained and have difficulty in our life and relationships.

What Kind of Boundaries Do You Have?

One fun and helpful way to look at boundaries is to compare them to physical fences. Personal boundaries are an invisible fence that provides a safe haven for us to be at our best. If you look at the many different kinds of fences, you get an idea of how unique each person and their boundaries can be. There are as many different fences (or boundaries) as there are unique fingerprints and people.


Imagine for a moment what your personal boundaries might look like if they were a fence.

A 6-foot wooden fence with a “No Trespassing” sign to keep you safe?

Boundaries are meant to care for ourselves, not lock people out.

Surfboard fence with personalityAre your boundaries like a funky, playful fence made of skis?

Are your boundaries in meticulous condition or are they in need of repair?

Do you allow certain people to break down your fence? Or are you someone who goes it alone and turns away loving help when it's offered?

Regardless of what your boundaries are like, a great starting place is to give yourself permission to be true to yourself. What do you need to be at your best? Let's look at the logic of why setting boundaries is a good thing.

7 Vital Reasons to Set Healthy Boundaries

• Boundaries define who we are, and what we like and don’t like.

• We are able to accomplish what is important to us.

• When we give up ourselves, we feel resentful. Boundaries prevent resentment.

• People can’t use us.

• Others know what to expect when we voice our needs.

• Boundaries promote respect and self-reliance.

• Boundaries create safety within relationships.

If boundaries are so important, then why don't we set them? Why do we have so much difficulty setting boundaries? There are many different reasons we get anxious and would rather give up ourselves than set limits for others.

Common Reasons Why We Have Trouble Setting Boundaries

• We want to be liked.

• We seek to please others.

• We are afraid of hurting other people’s feelings or of their reactions.

• We are accustomed to being dependent on others.

• We are afraid of rejection or being alone.

• We feel overly responsible for others.

• We don’t like or are afraid of conflict.

• We aren’t clear about what we want so it's easier to just agree.

• Our boundaries were disrespected or violated as children.

Even after we understand that it's important to set boundaries, many times we don't know HOW to set healthy boundaries. People used to tell me all the time, "Just say no!" However, setting a boundary for someone felt life-threatening due to the unsafe home I grew up in. And we're not children anymore; we have choices. 

Related reading: "7 Reasons You Need to Set Healthy Boundaries: Simple but Powerful Advice."

The following steps will help you be successful as you practice saying no or setting limits for those around you.

How to Set Boundaries: Essential Ingredients for Success
  • Act immediately before getting upset (or wait until you calm down).

  • Get clear on what you want.

  • State your request or boundary positively in a calm voice.

  • Describe your need clearly and concisely.
    For example, “Please call me when you are going to be more than 5 minutes late.”

  • Acknowledge the person when he or she meets your terms.

  • Be prepared to follow through. State what you will do if the boundary isn't respected. For example, “In the future, if you choose to be an hour late for our dates without calling, I’ll make other plans after 15 minutes and not be here when you arrive.”

If you'd like the steps of healthy boundaries to refer to, our Boundary skill card is a great way to keep the practice top of mind.

I want to learn how to set boundaries!

Brain-Tips2.5x2.5 Compressed
TIP #1:
If a boundary is disregarded after an agreement has been made, avoid giving repetitive warnings, making excuses for the person's behavior, or letting things slide until your emotions build. Follow through with what you said you would do.

TIP #2: If you're new to setting boundaries, take baby steps initially. Pick a safe person, one who you have a trusting relationship with, and practice with them on something as small as a restaurant choice. For instance, a friend wants to eat at a Mexican restaurant and you don't like Mexican. Say, "Let's try the new Chinese place in town instead!" or "Mexican is too spicy for me. What if we grabbed some sushi instead?"

These examples may not seem like you're even setting a boundary, but you are advocating for yourself, which is the purpose of a boundary!

Small actions start building boundary muscles. Once you feel fairly comfortable, say no in a new circumstance and perhaps, with a different person. Each micro-step builds more confidence.

Do You Want a Healthy Relationship? Develop Healthy Boundaries! They are essential for happy relationships.

My life dramatically changed when I learned how to draw loving and firm boundaries. Healthy boundaries equal a happy life.

No matter how uncomfortable it may be for you at first, you'll never regret taking care of yourself and letting others know how to love and respect you more.

If you're interested in a deeper dive into mastering boundaries, try out our online course "Healthy Boundaries, Happy Life."

Yes, help me set better boundaries

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity founder and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Communication & Interpersonal Skills, Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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