Building Healthy Boundaries

barbed wire against the sky

Have you ever been in an uncomfortable situation with a friend? Felt like your space was invaded by a family member? Been unappreciated by your spouse? These difficult everyday situations can be mitigated by building healthy boundaries and ensuring that they are respected.

Many people know what the word “boundaries” means, but many do not know what boundaries are. You might believe that boundaries are akin to a brick wall, or that setting boundaries mean you are “bad” in some way. Realistically, boundaries are a way to take care of ourselves. Healthy boundaries can help us prevent resentment, disappointment, or anger from building up when we are pushed. Healthy boundaries can also lead to healthier communication and relationships between others.

What are Boundaries?

If you don’t have a lot of experience with setting boundaries, you may need some assistance at first. Essentially, boundaries are what keep your feelings or “stuff” separate from someone else’s. Boundaries can take on many forms, from rigid boundaries to loose or open boundaries, and of course, healthy boundaries.

Rigid boundaries may keep others at a distance or make you seem detached in your relationships. Loose or open boundaries may mean you overshare personal information, have trouble saying no, or get too involved with others’ problems. Healthy boundaries, on the other hand, establish behavior that you expect from others, and what others expect of you. If you have healthy boundaries, you likely value your own opinion, are comfortable giving and receiving “no,” and understand how to meet and communicate your needs.

Many people implement different types of boundaries and create ones that best fit their lifestyles. For example, you may have strict boundaries at work, and looser boundaries with friends and family.

Types of Boundaries

Before you can begin implementing boundaries, you will need to understand the different types.

Boundary Type Meaning Example
Emotional Emotional boundaries refer to your feelings. You may not feel comfortable sharing your feelings with a coworker.
Financial Financial boundaries refer to your finances. Lending money to a friend might lead to resentment if you’re someone who prefers to save. You may also not want to discuss your earnings with others.
Intellectual or Mental Intellectual or mental boundaries refer to your thoughts and beliefs. Someone may disrespect these boundaries by dismissing your ideas or opinions.
Physical Physical boundaries refer to your space, body, and privacy. You may feel uncomfortable or disrespected when a family member enters your room when you are not around.
Sexual Sexual boundaries refer to your expectations concerning intimacy. You might feel uncomfortable or even disgusted when someone touches you or makes an unwanted sexual comment.
Time Time boundaries refer to how you protect your time. Telling your boss that you will not answer work emails after office hours is a good example of a time boundary.

Be sure to take each of these categories into account when evaluating and setting your boundaries.

Setting and Maintaining Boundaries

a man is setting a boundary by saying no

Knowing our boundaries and setting boundaries are two very different hurdles. Setting boundaries is often a skill that needs to be learned, and it takes even more practice to uphold your boundaries. To start setting your boundaries straight, try these 5 things:

1. Self-reflect.

The key to successfully building boundaries is knowing why each boundary is important to you. So often we are left feeling uncomfortable about a situation but we aren’t quite sure why. Reflect on situations that left you feeling angry or uncomfortable and note what boundaries you believe were crossed.

2. Start small and set them early.

If you don’t have a lot, or any, boundaries in place, then it’s best to start slow. It can also be difficult to introduce boundaries later on in relationships, so it’s best to start early. Remember, practice makes perfect.

3. Be assertive.

The only way to truly alert others that your boundaries have been crossed is to be direct with them. Being assertive, particularly if you are unaccustomed to doing so, can be scary. Start small with something manageable and build up your assertive skill. An example might be asking the waiter for your correct order if they brought you the wrong one. Being assertive does not mean that you are unkind, it only means that you are being fair and honest with them (and, thus, kind to them in the long run), while maintaining your peace, dignity, and self-respect.

4. Be consistent.

Letting boundaries slide can lead to confusion and encourage new expectations and demands among those around you. Try keeping things consistent and steady. This helps reinforce your original thresholds and beliefs, and it ensures those lines remain clearly established.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Communication is critical in the world of boundaries, especially if someone consistently oversteps yours. While you might need to raise your concerns, these discussions need not be confrontational. Remember, even though it is difficult for some people to say it, “no” is a complete sentence. You can say no to anyone for any reason with no explanation required. Becoming comfortable with saying “no” goes hand in hand with assertiveness and is a great way to make your boundaries clear. 

Affirming your boundaries means that you value yourself, your needs, and your feelings more than the thoughts and opinions of others. After all, not informing someone that they have crossed a line only leads to resentment on your end and confusion on theirs. If you have asserted yourself and made it clear to another person that they are not respecting your boundaries, it is okay to ignore them from that point forward. Remind yourself of your own worth, and that no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable.

Benefits of Healthy Boundaries 

It may feel uncomfortable or inconvenient to set boundaries, but in times when you’re feeling overwhelmed, they ultimately protect you from feeling worse. 

  • Conserve emotional and physical energy. Setting and maintaining boundaries will help you conserve your energy and can put you in a better mental state. 
  • Boost self-esteem and autonomy. With emotional and physical boundaries, you will develop autonomy and independence. Maintaining your assertiveness about your boundaries will also help bolster your self-esteem. 
  • Build better relationships. When you are able to create and maintain your own boundaries and respect those of your partner, friends, and family; you can see improvements in these relationships.
  • Enjoy a healthier lifestyle. Blurred boundaries, particularly between work life and personal life, can lead to unhealthier lifestyles, high levels of stress, and lower levels of happiness.


a woman smiling

Building healthy boundaries are essential for various reasons and look different to everyone. You might be concerned that they will make you seem unfriendly or confrontational, but they are essentially a form of self-care, and we actively look to incorporate other elements of this into our lives daily — from eating a balanced diet to exercising. This is no different!

It might take some time and consideration to decipher the boundaries most important to you and the best ways to implement them, but your mental well-being will appreciate the effort in the long run.