Tuesday, September 23, 2014 @ 2:13 PM


A boundary is each person’s personal “property line.”  It defines who they are, where they end, and where others begin. Boundaries are a way to describe a person’s sphere of responsibility. What a person is in control of – themselves.

Boundaries help people determine their property lines, keeping things out and letting things in.  Boundaries are not walls, they are flexible.  Being able to let the good in is important.  Some people struggle as they have trouble letting in compliments.


Examples of Boundaries

  • Skin. Skin covers bones and protects the inside of bodies (letting the good in – food; letting the bad out – waste products).  Victims of physical and sexual abuse often have poor boundaries.  Their mind, body and spirit were violated.
  • Words. “No”…Children start saying “No” in their two’s and three’s.  Parents don’t always like it, but it’s important for them to define what is “Yes” and what is “No.”  When someone hasn’t learned to say “No,” they lose a sense of boundaries for their words.
  • Truth. Individuals being able to speak their truth is called a boundary.  “I believe I am loved” is a truth for many.  Each individual knowing the truth about themselves is important for healthy relationships.  Being authentic (silly, quiet, loud, Type A, shy, etc.) is an example of a personal truth.
  • Geographical Distance. For some, removing themselves from danger or abusive situations may be the right choice, even if it’s removing themselves from family.  Choosing healthy relationships indicates high self-esteem.
  • Time. Taking time off from a person or situation may be healthy to take back an out-of-control aspect of a person’s life.  Taking time to build healthy boundaries and creating new ways of relating is healthy.
  • Emotional Distance. This may be a temporary boundary some may choose to heal their heart, if they’ve felt unsafe or hurt/abused.  To take some distance can clear heads to make more conscious decisions, rather than making emotional decisions.
  • Other People. Support groups are very helpful in terms of learning and creating new boundaries.  Other people can help those who feel boundary-less to be strong enough, at times, to set boundaries.  Many feel guilty when we first start setting boundaries.
  •  Consequences. Consequences enforce boundaries. They signal the seriousness and importance of boundaries. Each person decides to protect their boundaries for their own sanity and health and determine consequences if the boundary is not valued.

Common Boundary Myths

  • Setting boundaries is selfish. (It’s healthy to set boundaries with others. It speaks to the fact that the individual is self-aware and assertive.)
  • Boundaries are a sign of disobedience (Being congruent with self helps increase self-esteem.)
  • Setting boundaries will cause hurt for the individual setting the boundary and for others. (Most people appreciate other people’s boundaries and respect their decisions.)
  • Boundaries indicate that the person is mean or angry. Boundaries actually decrease anger.
  • Boundaries cause feelings of guilt Initially, this may be true, but as individual’s learn the importance of being true to themselves, the guilt will subside.
  • Boundaries are permanent, and will burn bridges. Boundaries can always be changed, if need be. If someone decides not to have a relationship with the boundary-setting person, it indicates their inability to respect the other.

Boundary Problems

Compliant people struggle with saying “No.” Being able to say, “I don’t agree,” “I don’t like that,” “It hurts,” “Stop,” “I won’t do that,” is healthy.  Guilt seems to be the biggest problem for most people, so instead of speaking their truth about their real feelings, they give in to the guilt.

The following are descriptions of the type of people who struggle with boundaries:

  1. Avoidants. To avoid confrontation or uncomfortable situations, some people tend to avoid the situation. Avoiding doesn’t mean the problem will go away it just means they are at the mercy of the other person.
  2. Controllers. These people do not respect others’ boundaries. Demanding and controlling people ruin lives. Some controlling people are aggressive and/or manipulative.
  3. Non-responsives. These people don’t hear the needs of others which causes disconnection with other people. This may also be defined as neglect.

 Take Responsibility and Take Life Back

  1. Feelings. Paying attention to feelings (sometimes the gut Indicates what boundary needs to be set) is a good barometer for what is right and wrong for each person.
  2. Attitudes and Beliefs. A person’s attitudes have to do with the stance someone takes towards others and/or things.   Beliefs are those ideas that people hold dear, however, some beliefs aren’t always very evident.  Each person needs to take responsibility for their attitudes and beliefs.  Many people with boundary problems have distorted attitudes about responsibility.
  3. Behaviors. Behaviors have consequences.  Children need consequences to be clear about the boundaries and who is in charge.  Parenting with love and limits gives children a sense of safety and produce children who have control over their own lives.
  4. Choices. Each individual is responsible for their choices. Setting boundaries involves taking responsibility for choices.
  5. Values. What value each person places on people and things is each person’s responsibility.  One person may value something (such as money) and another person may value something else (relationships).
  6. Limits. Individuals can’t limit other people, but they can limit their time spent with others.  Limits are also important for self-control. Individuals need to say “No” to themselves from time to time.
  7. Talents. Each individual has gifts and talents and they are important. Expressing and experiencing these gifts are important for a good sense of self.
  8. Thoughts. Establishing boundaries in thinking involves three things:  (1) Each person must own their own thoughts.  Many people become chameleons and start thinking and believing like the people around them.  (2) Healthy thoughts need to be expanded.  Studying and learning is a life-long process.  (3)  Think about and clarify distorted thinking.  For example, “All men are mean,” is distorted thinking.
  9. Desires. Considering what desires are important is essential for everyone.  Follow those desires, when appropriate.
  10. Love. Giving and receiving love can be difficult for many, especially if they love a person who is emotionally unhealthy.  Define love in a healthy way and seek that in life.

How To Set Boundaries?

  • Being emotionally present and clear while concerned about how the other person feels is important.  Be in a conversation, not a lecture – listen as well as speak.  Be warm, not confrontational or angry.
  • Connect even with differences. Be present even if the other person gets resistant or angry.  Don’t back away from anger, unless it’s abusive.
  • Discomfort vs. injury. Be aware of the discomfort (this is normal), and be careful of injury or taking in the injury from others.
  • Observe personal body language and how that speaks non-verbally to the other person.
  • Be clear about “You” and “I.”
  • “This is what I want.” Be clear and concise.  Talk about you, not the other person and what they’re doing or not doing.  Speak from your own need.  If you struggle with fear of the other leaving, deal with those issues first from a professional. Being clear about who you are can take some investigation.
  • Clarify the problem. Be clear in your own mind first.
  • Use the formula, “When you do ________, I feel ________, I wish you would do ________.
  • Avoid the statement, “You make me feel…”
  • Affirm and validate the people you confront so that they know they are valued.
  • Apologize for your part of the problem.
  • Avoid “shoulds” (this shames and controls).
  • Be specific about what you want/need.
  • Differentiate between forgiving and trusting


  1. Cloud, Henry, Ph.D., Townsend, John, Ph.D. (1992).  Boundaries:When to say YES, when to say NO to take control of your life. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.
  2. Cloud, Henry, Ph.D., Townsend, John, Ph.D. (2003).  Boundaries Face to Face: How to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding.  Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.

 Peg Roberts, MA, LMFT