A psychologist’s advice on how to set healthy boundaries

Written by Sarah Davies

Registered Psychologist

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve said yes to plans when we don’t have the time, or agreed to something that we actually don’t want to do.

Setting healthy boundaries can be a great form of self-care, and helps to let others know how you would like to be treated.

What is a boundary?

A boundary is a dividing line. In relationships, your personal boundaries communicate to others your emotional and physical limits, and express the behaviours you will and won’t accept.

You choose who you let in, how you distribute your time, energy and love. Your boundary lines can change depending on your individual needs at the time, and the reserves that you have in your “giving tank” in any particular moment.

Examples of setting boundaries:

  • How to respect you, e.g. asking friends and family to please text before dropping in.
  • How you prefer to spend your time, e.g. telling a friend, "I’m not available tomorrow but I could help you next Wednesday".
  • Physical energy, e.g. reminding your partner that you need to be in bed by 9:30pm so you can get up early for the gym tomorrow.
  • How to respect your physical and emotional safety, e.g. reminding your kids, "don’t hit your brother, we don’t tolerate violence in this house".
  • What is important to you, e.g. being firm with your colleagues that family comes first so "I need to leave this meeting by 3pm so I can pick up my children from school".

While this seems like a reasonable thing to do, setting boundaries can sometimes be misunderstood and interpreted to be mean or selfish, designed to keep people away and only be about saying no.

Why setting boundaries is an act of self-care

Boundaries are a kind and helpful form of communication that you can offer to another person. You are giving them direct instructions about your needs and limits.

People who communicate their boundaries value themselves, and their time, energy and needs, and the needs of others.

Try using assertive communication by integrating “I” statements. These allow you to take responsibility for your feelings, while also respectfully communicating the impact that the issue has on you.

For example; “I feel hurt when you don’t acknowledge my contribution to the project in team meetings and what I’d like is that you to make sure others know that we have worked on this together as a joint-effort.”

Some people may happily respect your boundaries, but it’s important to be prepared that others may be offended or test your boundary limits.

Remember that you can only control how you communicate your boundaries, you can’t control the reactions or behaviours of others.

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Posted: Apr 26 2022


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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