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6 Steps For Setting Good Boundaries & Actually Maintaining Them

Kelly O'Brien
Author: Expert reviewer:
Updated on February 18, 2020
Kelly O'Brien
By Kelly O'Brien
mbg Contributor
Kelly O'Brien is a freelance health and wellness writer based in Chicago.
Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP
Expert review by
Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP
Board-certified Clinical Psychologist
Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP is a board-certified clinical psychologist with a background in neuroscience. She is also the Director of Clinical Training at Bay Path University, and an associate professor in Graduate Psychology.
February 18, 2020

Do you keep adjusting your boundaries to fit each relationship? If so, it's time to reassess what boundaries mean for you. They are about your relationship with yourself and your own values, after all, so they shouldn't be so fluid. If you have trouble setting and sticking to healthy boundaries, these six tips should help.


Know this sad truth: no boundaries = little self-esteem.

Many people don't know what their boundaries are, when in fact they should roll off your tongue like the alphabet. The first step is admitting that your lack of boundaries stems from your lack of self-esteem. After all, what's the point of saying we want to grow if we're not going to be honest with ourselves about where we are now?


Decide what your core values are.

Who are you? What do you value? Once you get clear on what matters most to you, then you can take the bigger step of communicating this to others. Instead of creating your boundaries around a difficult relationship in your life, you must make your boundaries about you. For example, I set boundaries around phone time to honor the fact that I tend to get overstimulated by tech. This boundary is to decrease my stress level and not about avoiding others' phone calls or distancing myself from loved ones.


You can't change others, so change yourself.

Gosh, we all want others to change, right? I mean, that's part of the human experience. We get into arguments with our spouses, hoping, wishing, demanding even that they stop being difficult. We get mad when our moms call us five times in a day. You want your co-worker—that one who is so negative—to treat you with more respect. The list is long.

We cannot change others. We are not responsible for what comes out of their mouth, the daily choices they make, or their reactions. The bottom line? Since you can't change other people, change how you deal with them.


Decide the consequences ahead of time.

So what do we do once someone inevitably tries to push our boundaries? Decide what the consequences are. The best way to figure out your own boundaries and consequences when people cross them is sitting quietly down with yourself and making this all about you. (Remember: Boundaries are about honoring your needs, not about judging other people's choices.) Write down what you decide so it's on paper somewhere.


Let your behavior, not your words, speak for you.

Present your boundaries clearly to people and then let your behavior do the talking. People will test, push, and disrespect your limits. You'll know you're getting healthier when this doesn't get an emotional reaction out of you. When your boundaries are your core beliefs, you will not get riled up if you are tested.


Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

The biggest part of boundaries is how clearly you communicate them. You can have the most healthy set of boundaries on the planet, but if you do not communicate them clearly, you are going to create some really confusing relationships, both for you and everyone else involved.

One way to quickly get someone to question your character or authenticity? Say one thing and do another. Sometimes we're afraid to confront others with truth in love or relationships. We're afraid to tell people what we really want, to admit that we hate going to certain restaurants or have trouble spending time with a friend's toxic cousin or hate when a boss dumps deadlines on us at 6 p.m. on a Friday. We conceal our true feelings because we're scared of people's reactions.

The more you ground yourself with your boundaries and values, the more you'll be able to be very clear in your communication.

Kelly O'Brien author page.
Kelly O'Brien

Kelly O'Brien is a freelance health and wellness writer based in Chicago. Her mission is to inspire those that suffer from chronic health conditions. She curates the blog Snapshots of Wellness.