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Setting and Maintaining Boundaries

Imagine what would happen if homes, properties, and businesses did not have walls… Anyone, wanted or unwanted, could enter those spaces. Similarly, people need figurative “walls” or boundaries to protect their physical, emotional, and psychological “space.” It is more and more common to hear comments like, “He has no boundaries;” “She needs clearer boundaries,” etc. What does this really mean?

First, we need to define what we mean by personal boundaries and why they are important.

Boundaries are limits and rules people set for themselves to create a healthy sense of personal space. There are various types of boundaries, including physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological. Setting a healthy boundary is important in protecting and taking care of oneself, as well as in having healthy relationships. Someone with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening themselves up when they feel safe. Observing boundaries also means accepting when others say “no.”

If we feel like our limits are pushed, over time we can feel drained and become disappointed and resentful. Setting and observing boundaries help limit stress and are very important mental health measures.

Here are some things you can do to establish healthy boundaries:

Noticing your feelings

When interacting with others, notice what you are feeling. If something does not feel “right,” check in with yourself; become aware of what you are feeling; and honor what you need to do. An example is when someone is standing too close, notice if that makes you uncomfortable, and establish a physical boundary by stepping back to where you feel more comfortable.

Another part of self-awareness is to notice if you are taking on someone else’s feelings. Become aware of when another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences are merging with yours, and distinguish which are yours. You can practice this by putting up an imaginary wall or circle around yourself, and set the intention of not allowing others’ “stuff” in. Think of this as an internal alert system, similar to security alarms that are triggered when one crosses a physical boundary.

Knowing your limits

Before you can establish and communicate to others your boundaries, you need to be clear in yourself where your boundaries lie. Assess what is important to you in terms of time, energy, intimacy, finances, etc. Determine where your limits are in these and other measures, so that you know what they are before encountering tests of the boundaries. This does not mean that you cannot negotiate or redefine your boundaries, but it is helpful to have a good idea of them as a benchmark. There are times when one’s time is especially scarce; therefore, you might need to focus on setting and maintaining a boundary around how much time you can give others.

Depending on the situation, you might have a mix of boundaries. You may have stricter boundaries at work, whereby you might not share certain personal information. Your boundaries may be looser with family and close friends. The degree of boundaries also varies based on culture; in some cultures it may never be appropriate to share personal information outside the family, while in others it may be fine to do so.

Starting small

If setting limits is difficult and unnatural for you, start small. Find one area of your life where you can practice setting and maintaining a boundary. It may be regarding one person who tends to demand a lot from you. You can practice telling that person that you have a certain amount of time you can give them, but then you have other commitments.

Being clear with others

Communicating your wants and needs are a big step in setting boundaries. Once you know your own limits and establish boundaries for yourself, you can be clear about them with others. You may want to state your boundaries and expectations to some people, in order to ensure that they will honor them, and thus honor you. One way to maintain your boundaries is to be consistent in upholding them. You may need to remind people about some of your boundaries.

Saying “no”

Saying “no” to others is not easy for many people. Most people want to be liked, to be helpful, and to be accommodating. Many think that saying “no” might prevent that; however, it is okay to say “no” when appropriate and necessary. As the adage goes, “Saying ‘no’ to others means saying ‘yes’ to yourself.”

Observing work/life balance

Another kind of boundary is that between work and home life. These have become especially blurred during the pandemic for those who have been working from home. It is very important to monitor and distinguish where work ends and home life “begins.” It is crucial for mental health and happiness.

Re-assessing needs

Depending on circumstances and demands on your life, your boundaries may change. It is worth taking time to reflect on, maybe through journaling, how well your boundaries are serving you. Look at areas where you feel overextended, as well as areas in which you can open the boundary range. As work demands become greater, or as new people come into your life, you can determine your limits and establish healthy boundaries from the start.

Keep in mind that setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is a form of self-care about which you do not need to feel guilty. As you allow yourself to set boundaries, you may find that your confidence increases, which is always a healthy outcome. Remind yourself that you deserve time, energy, space, monetary well-being, etc., and claim them for yourself.

Cultivating boundary setting

Learning about setting boundaries through training is another way you can develop and practice it. The Karen Natasha Coaching training program has a workshop on setting boundaries. See for more details.

What to do TODAY?

Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people access awareness about themselves. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals and bring their best selves to any situation. We can help you develop healthy boundaries, empowering you to gain a sense of control in your life. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.

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