Setting Boundaries

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
3 min read

Do you feel deep down like you agree to do too many things, but you’re not sure how to say no? Maybe you don’t want people to think you’re rude or unkind. You don’t want them to see you as needy, demanding, or “high-maintenance.” You don’t want to let others down.

You’re not alone. Many people fall into this pattern. The good news is that setting boundaries can save you stress and give you a sense of control and freedom over how you live and spend your time.

Establishing boundaries is good for you and the people around you. When you’re clear about your boundaries, people will understand your limits and know what you are and aren’t OK with, and they’ll adjust their behavior. The people who don’t respect your boundaries are ones you may not want in your life.

Healthy boundaries can also help you:

  • Build greater self-esteem
  • Get clear on who you are, what you want, and your values and belief systems
  • Bring focus to yourself and your well-being
  • Enhance your mental health and emotional well-being
  • Avoid burnout
  • Develop independence
  • Gain a greater sense of identity

The best way to start setting boundaries is to offer direct, open, and honest feedback about your limits. Try these tips:

Communicate your thoughts. Be honest but respectful when sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone else. It’s OK to take some time to gather yourself before and after the conversation. But don’t let that become an excuse to avoid telling them how you feel.

Never assume or guess someone else's feelings. Making assumptions can create a lot of misunderstandings in a relationship. You may feel like you know someone so well that you could guess what they’re thinking, but it’s always best to ask rather than assume.

Follow through on what you say. Setting boundaries but not following through lets the other person think they have an excuse to continue to overstep your boundaries. Don’t make any exceptions to your boundaries without thinking about it carefully. Otherwise, you may find yourself compromising on things that aren't acceptable to you.

Take responsibility for your actions. Instead of placing blame or complaining about the situation or how you’re feeling, take a step back and think about the choices you’ve made in a relationship and whether they may have contributed to the situation.

Know when it’s time to move on. You can share how you want to be treated in a relationship, but you aren’t responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and fairness. If someone can’t respect your boundaries, it may be time to end the relationship.

There are many ways to say “no”:

  •  Just say “no.” No wavering. No second-guessing. Just no.
  • “I won’t be able to make it; I have another commitment.”
  • “Thank you, I’m not able to take that on right now.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have to say no.”
  • “While I loved being a part of the last presentation, public speaking really isn’t my thing, so I won’t do it this year.”
  • “I’m sorry, I can’t make it.”
  • "I can't do that."
  • “Thank you for thinking of me for this project. I can’t take more work on right now, but I would love to be considered for other things in the future.”
  • “That sounds really interesting, and I’d be happy to do it, but that means I won’t be able to submit the report by Friday. Can we talk about changing the priorities of some of my responsibilities?”

Putting yourself first can be a challenge, but now is the time to do so. Learning to set boundaries can be a valuable skill that helps you heal and enriches your relationships in the future.

Boundaries help us be aware of ourselves and our relationships. They’re important for self-care and making yourself a priority. If you feel like you’re unhappy, resentful, insecure in relationships, being taken advantage of, or losing a sense of identity, think about whether you have unhealthy boundaries and consider setting healthy ones.

It's also important to realize that although boundaries can be a powerful tool for managing and shifting your emotions, they aren’t a substitute for mental health treatment. If distressing emotions interfere with your daily life, talk to a licensed mental health professional.