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Creating Healthy Boundaries

by Janette Ward

This month is about boundaries and how crucial it is for our mental health and well-being to have healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits (

When you feel anger or resentment or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary.

When I was younger woman, my boundaries were not healthy. I had low self-esteem, was a people pleaser and I found saying ‘no’ to people really difficult and I believe that this contributed to me experiencing depression.

There are several reasons why we might not uphold our boundaries, such as fear of rejection or confrontation or hurting other people’s feelings, guilt or being seen as selfish.

An example of a boundary, imagine you have a family member who regularly asks to borrow your car, when they return it, they have used all the petrol and the car is dirty. This is likely to result in you feeling resentful and angry. Having a healthy boundary in this situation would mean only lending your car if the family member agrees to put petrol in the car and returns it as clean as when they borrowed it, if not then you chose not to lend it to them in future.

My experience in having healthy boundaries means I treat myself with respect and the people in my life also treat me with respect and do not try to cross my boundaries.

Creating boundaries is challenging as it inevitably involves us taking full responsibility for our choices. That includes setting limits on others and setting our own internal limits. Setting limits on others is not about trying to change others but is about setting limits on our exposure to people who are behaving disrespectfully towards us. Setting our own internal limits involves being able to say ‘no’ to yourself, to have self-discipline, to have a feeling, impulse or desire and not having to act on it.

There are so many benefits once you have healthy boundaries, including self-respect, confidence and self-esteem; making good decisions; being assertive and confidently and truthfully say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and be okay when others say ‘no’ to you.

One of the best books I have read about boundaries is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. They write about common boundary myths like, ‘If I set boundaries, I’m being selfish’, which is clearly a myth because if you have healthy boundaries, you are looking after yourself. When you say no to people and activities that are hurtful to you, you are protecting yourself. From that place you are better able to care and support others.

There are some tips for creating healthy boundaries from Anne Katherine’s book Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. She writes about when you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, get angry or apologize for the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. If it upset them, know it is their problem. Some people, especially those accustomed to controlling, abusing or manipulating you, might test you. Plan on it, expect it but remain firm. Remember, your behaviour must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologising.

At first, you will probably feel selfish, guilty or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and remind yourself you have a right to self-care. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety, fear or guilt prevent you from taking care of yourself.

Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries. Eliminate toxic people from your life – those who want to manipulate, abuse and control you.

I wish you every success in creating boundaries that will support you to lead a confident, empowered and fulfilling life.

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