How to Set Healthy Boundaries


Do you ever take stock of relationships and have cause to wonder, “Do other people have relationships like this?” or “It’s too late to say anything now because they will be upset with me; so it is OK they take advantage of me”? Sometimes we give so much of ourselves that we feel defenseless or immobilized. What does this mean and is change possible?


Mariana Bockarova, PhD is a researcher at the University of Toronto and the author of Romantically Attached. She discusses the four ways to reset appropriate, healthy boundaries. Dr. Bockarova defines boundaries as “the limits we set with other people, which indicate what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior towards us.”

Boundaries are essential; they help navigate the world in a safe way to protect self and others. Strengthening boundaries will ultimately usher in joy and peace. It is stressful when others betray or ignore your boundaries; it may cause unnecessary emotional frustration. Not having boundaries does significant damage to one’s self-worth and sense of self-efficacy.

Dr. Bockarova identifies the first of four ways to set your boundaries straight: Knowing Your Limits. This can be done by looking at past relationships and delineating what was acceptable and what was not in those relationships. It is important to clearly define the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual boundaries that you have with others in your life.

The second step to setting boundaries Being Assertive. This is where you want to be honest and clear with what you say to others; because most people suck at mindreading, it is important to speak up, clearly and firmly. You must remember you are one person; you can only do so much. Others will not know what they can and cannot do if you do not speak up and tell them. This is often the most challenging facet of starting to establish your own space and abilities. It is inordinately difficult for some to establish or alter their boundaries, as self-worth for many is defined by the needs and feelings of others. This is a critical error.

The Third step is practicing to be assertive, with the dictum that Practice Makes Perfect. Dr. Bockarova explains that even though this feels out of the ordinary, sustaining your boundaries means that “…you value yourself, your needs, and your feelings more than the thoughts and opinions of others.” This does not make you cruel or mean; it simply means you are fair and just toward others and toward yourself!

The Forth step is to Delete and Ignore those who continue to disregard the boundaries that you have set. Sometimes this means rejecting that person as a friend; however, as Dr. Bockarova explains, “Remind yourself of your own worth, and that no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable or take your self-defined space away from you.”

Do not panic. Dr. Bockarova assures those for whom this kind of change triggers significant anxiety: “Albert Bandura noted, much of human social learning comes from modeling behavior, so if we do not have adequate role models whose behavior we can encode through observation and later imitate, we are at a loss, often left fumbling and frustrated.”

Solid psychotherapists are well-versed in boundaries, how to recognize them, then develop them in order to increase self-image and self-efficacy.

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