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What are boundaries?

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

You need them in your life!

What is a boundary?

Boundaries are like an invisible bubble that defines what you let in, and what you keep out, what you allow, what you don't, what you say yes to, what you say no to. They help you to be clear on what you’re comfortable with and how you’d like to be treated by others.

A boundary is a limit you can set on what you’ll accept of another person (or people's) access to you, their words, behaviours or actions. Boundaries can be material, physical or emotional.

Why are boundaries important?

Boundaries support and protect your emotional wellbeing, time and energy. It’s a way of showing love and respect to yourself, putting your needs first and making decisions that are best for you and not other people. They honour your needs, feelings and values.

The advantages of healthy boundaries are:

- Healthy relationships

- Better emotional health and well-being

- Stronger sense of identity and self-worth

- Helps you avoid burnout

- Helps you give out and receive in return

Basically it’s a form of self-care. You’re being selective and prioritising one thing over another.

Not having boundaries can lead to resentment, anger, relationship issues and burnout.

Rather than fostering resentment, you can define and communicate your boundaries.

How do I know what my boundaries are?

A good way to know what your boundaries are is to notice when you feel triggered, anxious, depleted or wound up.

How do you set boundaries?

Do some self-reflection (or work with a coach, shameless plug there!!). It helps to keep it simple and think about your values and what’s most important to you. It might be family, time alone, work, money, hobbies, personal development and so on.

You can have boundaries with yourself like:

- Going to bed by a certain time

- Signing up to a weekly yoga class and putting that above everything else (unless there’s an emergency of course!)

- Not looking at your phone during certain times of day, or after a certain time each evening

- Getting up earlier each morning so you have time to read, meditate, listen to a podcast or do something else you enjoy

- Deciding not to use credit cards and only spend what you have

- Deciding to cultivate a few smaller, more meaningful friendships than with a larger group

You can have boundaries for other people. I'd argue these ones are the most important.

They key is communicating them clearly, calmly and consistently. Boundaries help both parties understand what’s acceptable and what won’t be tolerated.

Some examples of healthy boundaries with other people might be:

- I need quiet time to myself every day/every week

- I may take a few days to reply to messages, especially during the week

- I’m not drinking at the moment

- I need to be home by 9pm

- I’m not comfortable when you vent to me about about… (our family member, our friend, a particular topic). I want to be there for you but is there someone else you could talk to about it?

- I know we have different opinions but I can only talk about this if you’re respectful to me

- Thanks for sharing this information with me, right now I’m not in a place to take it all in. I’ll let you know if I want to chat about it

- I would love to help you but I’ve got a lot on. Can we book in for another time?

- We have family time on Sundays so we can’t make it

- I’m feeling really tired and overwhelmed at the moment, please could you help out with the kids so I can have some time to myself

- In work: I can do that but I have three other competing priorities at the moment. If I do that too something won't get done. Which would you like me to leave or handover to someone else?


Boundaries don’t have to be set in stone, they can change over time and they can be flexible. You can make allowances. There’s no one size fits all with boundaries, they can be different for different people.

Feeling guilt or awkwardness with the idea of boundaries?

I get it! I used to feel that too. For years I didn't put myself first full stop. I was programmed to put everyone else and their needs before my own. My feelings didn't matter. Or so I thought. I learnt the hard way. My mental health suffered and so did some of my relationships. Not any more!

Thinking about your own wellbeing first is something a lot of people find hard to do. Remember boundaries are designed to protect you so there’s good reason to have them. It’s okay to put yourself first and it’s not something you need to feel guilty about. While it’s nice to be kind and considerate of other people, you have to look after yourself. You are your first priority. Decide that you matter.

Parents listen up - this is a special note for you. How can you set boundaries and take care of yourself when the small humans that rely on you can't take care of themselves? Well, you deserve the same love and care that you give to everyone else. You can't pour from an empty cup. You need to recharge your batteries. If it's tricky (and I know personally that it can be) start small. Drink a glass of water, eat fruit and veg, meditate for 2 minutes, read a few pages of a book, give yourself a massage with hand lotion, go for a 5 minute mindful walk. It doesn't have to be big.

Get support, take any help that's offered, delegate, pay for help if that's possible. You don't need to be everything to everyone. You're human. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Most of us don't have a village to rely on so taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do. You'll be able to give more to your family.

What to do when boundaries aren’t respected

Just a note, people won’t always like your boundaries, and they might not be respected. Especially if you’re new to setting them. The bottom line is we can’t make people respect our boundaries. But we can control how we respond.

Some tips are:

- Decide whether the boundary is negotiable – some are more important than others. Compromise can be a good thing as long as it’s not always you who is abandoning your needs.

- Ask yourself if you’ve communicated your boundaries clearly and whether you need to make adjustments.

- Accept that some people will not respect your boundaries no matter what you do. If someone repeatedly violates the boundaries you have communicated, you can either choose to accept this (but note you’re likely to continue feeling violated, resentful, angry and it could be extremely damaging to you and your mental health) or choose to disengage. This doesn’t mean you don’t care about the person, it means you're taking care of yourself and your needs above anyone else’s. Disengaging could look like:

- Taking space away from a person or situation

- Limiting contact or stopping contact – this isn’t intended to punish or manipulate others, it’s simply a form of self care, you owe it to yourself. It doesn’t have to be forever.

You don’t have to have a relationship with family members or anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. Family and friends should lift you up, support you and love you, not leave you anxious, angry or confused.

Boundaries protect the things that are of value to you. They keep you in alignment with what you have decided you want in life.

If you'd like some help working out your values or defining and communicating your boundaries get in touch.

PS if you found this blog interesting, you'll LOVE my emails! Subscribe to receive my emails here. I'll send you one every few weeks and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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