Boundaries: Why You Need Them and How to Get Started

Do you ever get the uncomfortable feeling that you’re letting others take advantage of you? If you struggle with saying no, allowing others to mistreat you, or feeling overwhelmed by the demands and expectations of others, there is a solution that will save you time, energy, and heartache: setting boundaries. If you want to learn how to establish healthier relationships and prioritize your own well-being, read on!

Understanding Boundaries

Boundaries are guidelines that define the limits and expectations we have for ourselves and in our relationships. They are essentially your rules for how others will treat you and how you will interact with them. They can be physical, emotional, or interpersonal in nature. By establishing boundaries, you can protect your own needs, values, and personal space. Without them, you risk feeling drained, resentful, and taken advantage of on a regular basis.

If you’re feeling ashamed or incompetent because you’ve reached adulthood without fully understanding how to set boundaries, don’t! This is not uncommon. Several factors contribute to a lack of boundary-setting skills. Cultural and societal expectations (particularly for women) often teach us to prioritize accommodating others' needs over asserting our own. 

Your upbringing and childhood experiences can also shape your beliefs about your worthiness and create a need to please others. You may have grown up in an environment where setting boundaries was discouraged or met with negative consequences. Don’t worry, all is not lost; with awareness, education, and practice, it is possible to develop and strengthen these essential skills.

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

Recognizing the signs of weak or nonexistent boundaries is the first step toward change. Common indicators include having difficulty saying no when you really want to, feeling responsible for others' emotions, having a fear of disappointing others, and allowing others to mistreat or manipulate you. Lacking boundaries can result in emotional exhaustion, increased stress levels, feelings of resentment, and strained relationships.

Let’s look at an example: Imagine that you have a friend who relies on you heavily for emotional support. This friend often calls you in the evening and wants to talk for hours about their troubles. You would prefer to relax in the evenings, but you feel obligated to pick up the phone and give them emotional support. During these long conversations, the focus is entirely on your friend, who rarely even asks about you. This friend also expects you to text them back quickly throughout the day, expressing disappointment if you don’t. You don’t enjoy feeling “on call” for them, but you hate letting them down. You hold a lot of resentment against this friend and find yourself stewing over it often. You feel drained after your conversations with them, and you get a sinking feeling every time you see their name pop up on your phone. You have poor boundaries with this friend, and you are suffering as a result (we’ll use this example again further down.)

The Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries offers a wealth of benefits. They enhance our self-esteem and self-worth, enabling us to communicate our needs and preferences effectively. Setting boundaries fosters mutual respect and ensures that our relationships are built on equality, understanding, and trust. It reduces stress and allows us to prioritize our own well-being without guilt or hesitation.

Let’s go back to the example of the friend from above. Imagine if you could get to a place where they no longer expect you to spend most evenings talking to them. Imagine if they understood how hurtful it was to you that they never ask about you, and started to give equal importance to your life and experiences. You would feel respected by them, and they would know what you need. You would no longer resent them or dread hearing from them. That’s the power of boundaries!

Practical Steps to Get Started

Establishing boundaries can be challenging (especially if it’s a new skill for you) but it is also immensely rewarding. Begin by reflecting on your values, needs, and limits. Identify areas where boundaries need to be strengthened. Practice assertive communication, clearly expressing your thoughts and feelings while respecting others. Embrace self-care as a means to honor and protect your physical and emotional well-being. Start small, setting boundaries in situations that feel manageable, and gradually expand from there.

In the example of the friend from above, you could start by not answering the phone in the evenings anymore. Let them know “I care about you, but I really need my evenings to myself to relax and recharge. I’ve decided to put my phone on silent at 8pm. Let’s schedule a time that we can talk that works for both of us.” Once you feel more comfortable, you can progress to “I feel like I haven’t done a great job of making my needs known. I’d really like to tell you about my day and get your input on some situations. Do you mind if we talk about me first?”

Maintaining Boundaries in the Long Run

Building boundaries is an ongoing process. Consistency and self-awareness are key. Regularly reassess and adapt your boundaries as needed, honoring your growth and evolving needs. Remember that setting boundaries is an act of self-care, and prioritizing your well-being is essential for your mental health and overall happiness.

Be prepared for potential resistance or pushback from others who may be accustomed to your previous patterns. Your friend might be offended, hurt, or angry when you set your boundaries. That’s ok - no one has to respect your boundaries. But if they don’t, you don’t have to allow them to stay in your life. Remember, boundaries are rules for what you are willing to put up with. If other people can’t respect them, you don’t have to put up with them. 

It can be uncomfortable or hurtful to lessen contact with others or cut them out entirely, but in the long run, it will help you lead a happier life. By weeding out friends who don’t respect your boundaries and replacing them with ones who do, you will surround yourself with healthy relationships.

Setting boundaries is a transformative step toward cultivating healthier relationships and prioritizing your own well-being. By recognizing the importance of boundaries, understanding their benefits, and taking practical steps to establish them, you are embarking on a journey of self-empowerment and self-respect.

Seeking Support to Set Boundaries

You don't have to embark on this journey alone! Seek support from trusted friends, family members, or professionals who can provide guidance and encouragement. Therapy can be invaluable in exploring past experiences, gaining insights, and developing strategies for boundary-setting. 

At Medens Health, we’re here to help you on this journey. We offer in-person and virtual therapy in California and Nevada, and virtual therapy across ~36 states. Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or to register as a new patient get started here.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.