How to Set Boundaries With Others

Boundaries can be difficult because they change depending on the situation, often have gray areas, and they’re not tangible. Learning how to set boundaries with others is more difficult for some of us and for a multitude of reasons.

Some of us have had upbringings where we experienced or witnessed another person chronically overstep boundaries. In some situations children must use unhealthy boundaries to get a need met. Another instance is being raised in a household that normalized invading a child’s boundaries. When we’ve been a part of a situation like this, especially over a long period of time, learning how to set boundaries with others gets confusing.

Why it’s important to learn how to set boundaries with others;

We deserve healthy boundaries. If you struggle with feeling undeserving at times, remember that allowing someone to cross boundaries does them a disservice too. You’re likely blurring their perception of what a boundary should look like; which will eventually give them the hurdle of relearning the boundary. You could be conditioning someone to feel inadequate, helpless, or to take advantage of situations/people when it’s inappropriate. You could even be removing someone’s natural consequence when you have inappropriate boundaries.

This eventually can even influence their character or personality and often in a negative way. It’s important to remember that people often take the path of least resistance. This might be something to think about in regards to others and yourself when you’re figuring out how to set boundaries with others.

Are you often the path of least resistance?

When it comes to setting boundaries vs just putting up with it; Is taking on more than you can handle the path of least resistance for you?



Some Boundaries to Identify

  • Taking on another’s task/role
    • Examples:
    • You begin to clean the snow off your child’s car every morning and overtime teach the child to expect this
    • You start going into work an hour early to prepare for work but slowly this transitions into taking on the work of who is actually on shift at that time
  • Blatant overstepping/disrespect
    • Examples:
    • Every time your coworker knocks you answer the door promptly, as quickly as possible actually. Eventually the coworker begins to just open your door without knocking
    • You apologize often to your 10 year old, even when asking them to pick up their mess. You also emphasize your mistakes and even refer to yourself in derogatory terms to make the child feel comfortable with making mistakes. The child begins scoffing at you and referring to you in a similar manner to how you refer to yourself.
  • Pushing past a time limit
    • Examples:
    • You need to get off the phone by 12:45pm in order to make it to your doctor appointment but end up late because you didn’t want hang up on your friend
    • You want to fit in a run from 12:00-12:30pm but end up doing work tasks through the time, you end up missing the run altogether
  • Dependence/helplessness
    • Examples:
    • A friend had a bad experience at an Urgent Care and left without being seen. Because you can write for prescriptions you give them a script for what they need so they can avoid the hassle. Since then, they’ve asked you for medical advice and prescriptions to avoid having another bad experience
    • The water delivery man was off for medical leave so you kindly took the water canisters in to be filled for the office during those months. Since then, the office manager cancelled the water man’s visits altogether and allocated the funds elsewhere. Now when the office runs out of water, they email you to refill it and go without it until you do it
  • Information
    • Examples:
    • Your friend recently had a break up and talks to you often about it. She constantly asks how your relationship is going and makes leading remarks to lure you into sharing personal information
    • Your coworker knows of one of your clients through some of their common friends. After each meeting with the client the coworker visits you to “chat” and seems to linger in the area anytime that particular client is scheduled
  • Physical space
    • Examples:
    • In your sister’s household the adults and kids playfully spank each other often. When you visit them the kids spank your butt when given the opportunity
    • Each time a particular customer comes in he holds his hand out to shake your hand after checking out. It makes you uncomfortable, but you feel obligated to shake his hand



How to Set Boundaries with Others

  • Taking on another’s task/role
    • Just stop doing it, sometimes this is easier said than done.
    • Delay. You don’t need to commit to something immediately. You can make a statement like “I’m not going to agree to that right now” or “I’ll let you know.” This gives you the opportunity to have time to consider what you’re agreeing to and decide if you want to do it or not. 
    • Make it formal. Sometimes sending out something more outward/physical, such as a sign, text or an email, etc. is more effective. This might have to include a CC in the email so you have some support with what boundary you’re setting. This also gives you something to refer back to when you need to remind someone or move on to disciplinary action; “remember I sent an email saying…”
    • For kids you can print off a list of house rules, review them and hang them on the wall/fridge.
  • Blatant overstepping/disrespect
    • Address it. In my experience, blatant overstepping usually has to be called out and addressed to be corrected. 
    • Avoid it. You can also try to distance yourself, if possible, from the source of disrespect/overstepping. The down side is that it likely won’t go away but you have at least minimized the frequency. 
  • Pushing past a time limit
    • Set the time limit as soon as possible
    • Remind of the time limit
    • Have a simple “let go” phrase
      • “I’m going to let you go now”
      • “Anyway, I have to go”
    • If simply letting them go is more complicated such as having an obligation to them, caring for them, etc.
      • Summarize your interaction to begin a transition into the let go phase “You’re stressed about Thanksgiving plans”
      • Reassure follow up, if necessary- “I’ll reach back out to you about what I’m bringing”
      • Button up with a “let go” phrase – “I’m gonna get going now”
      • Don’t reopen the discussion even if they try to
      • If you feel the urge to respond to their attempts try simple head nods or “ok” and go back to let go phrase
      • Create the cut off. It can feel uncomfortable but cutting off after all other attempts have been made is sometimes necessary
        • Allow things to go to voicemail afterwards
        • Physically walk away from the conversation
        • Wave and go, nod and leave 
  • Dependence
    • Empower the dependent person when possible; “You can do that”, “You’re capable”
    • Delaying is going to save you from a lot of tasks. Stop giving the immediate affirmative. This gives you time to think and formulate a response. It also give the other person more time to think about their request, do it themselves, or go to another person
  • Information
    • Remind yourself that disclosing information is not your obligation to them
    • Have a go to phrase
      • “That’s between me and her”
      • “That’s on a need to know basis”
      • Simply shrugging can even be adequate
    • Allow for the awkward silence that will likely happen at first
  • Physical space
    • Dodge the touch. Sometimes this is enough to send the message to not touch you
    • Decline with your non-verbals
      • Put your hands up and step back
      • Shake your head no
    • Verbally decline
      • “No, thank you”
      • “That’s okay” 
      • “I’m not a hand shake person”
    • Make it more formal.
      • If it’s a work setting and dodging or verbally declining is not effective you can address it with your supervisor/human resources or theirs
      • It might sound dramatic to you but you should perceive your physical space just as important as anyone else’s, and just as important as anyone’s reputation
      • Just because you do address uncomfortable touch with a supervisor doesn’t mean someone is going to be written up or receive any disciplinary action
      • Your supervisor/human resources/their supervisor have an obligation to address these exact scenarios


How and Why Does Boundary Blurring Happen?

Here are some aspects that can make learning how to set boundaries with others more challenging

  • Avoiding confrontation
    • Understand that ‘confrontation’ is subjective and not everyone will interpret your boundary the same
    • How your boundary is received, is out of your hands
    • Accept that there will likely be some discomfort after setting a boundary
    • Have a short phrase for yourself to reassure you did the right thing (not a drawn out back and forth internal struggle)
      • “It needed to happen”
      • “I had to do this for me”
      • “That was digging me an early grave”
    • After you’ve reassured yourself with a short phrase; Try to shake off feeling that you need to compromise or give a rationale for what boundary you set 
    • Set the boundary, promptly shake off the discomfort when it arises, and move on
  • Urgency
      • Often used by others to get a quick response
      • Triage the urgency
        • Is this life or death? If it’s not, take a breath, relax your body and give yourself the space and time you deserve
        • It is your problem at all? If it’s not;
          • Redirect the person
          • Delegate the tasks
          • Empower the person to handle it themselves or seek out another more appropriate resource
  • Flattery
    • As with any of the strategies, this can be tricky. Everyone likes being praised and some of us desperately want to feel needed, important, heroic and loved
    • If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy you might be more likely to be moved by flattery
    • Don’t affirm the comments that place you on a pedestal- not even with your non-verbals
    • Remain outwardly and inwardly indifferent
    • Use your head instead of your heart when it comes to someone who uses this strategy to take advantage of you
    • Do not play into the storyline that’s being pushed onto you
      • Example; “I can’t ask ______ about this because she never answers my calls. You always do, you’re so good with people”
      • This doesn’t mean that person is being malicious or intentionally taking advantage of you; they may really know you to be a genuine support
      • Regardless, an unhealthy boundary can easily form and it’s more likely to happen if you agree to the role they’re giving you and others
      • Brush off their invitation to put another person’s character down
      • Don’t intensify or add to the narrative they’re creating
        • Act oblivious/stay indifferent
        • Even nodding from you can prompt them to take things further
        • Say
          • “I haven’t had that experience”
          •  “ok”
          • “I’m staying out of that”
          • “That’s between you and her”
        • Don’t Say
          • “Yeah, she’s always been a flake”
          • “Right, I can see that”
          • “I know it”
  • Our own refusal to ‘let others down’
    • If this is your achilleas heel then you have to practice it – It does get easier
    • Use affirmations
      • “My service to others does not equate to my worth”
      • “The world doesn’t depend on me”
      • “I’m only one person”
      • “If I change nothing, nothing changes.”


Why You Should Learn How to Set Boundaries With Others?

Leaning how to set boundaries with others is really important. The chronic stress that comes with unhealthy boundaries will wear on your mental and physical health

If you’re chronically stressed 

  • You are more likely to be sick
  • Have high blood pressure
  • An increase in cortisol
  • An increased heart rate
  • Irregular sleep or lack of sleep
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Increased stomach acid
  • Nausea
  • Lower sex drive

Stop sacrificing your health, It’s not worth it. 


“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious and you get to decide how you use them. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.”

Anna Taylor


“Boundary setting helps you prioritize your needs over other people’s wants.”

Lauren Kenson


“Emotional self-defense… When you set healthier relationship standards in your life, some people will take it personally. That’s their issue, not yours. The distance isn’t against them; it’s for you. It’s a boundary, not a grudge.”

Steve Maraboli


“Do not justify, apologize for, or rationalize the healthy boundary you are setting. Do not argue.

Just set the boundary calmly, firmly, clearly, and respectfully.”

Crystal Andrus


“If you want to live an authentic, meaningful life, you need to master the art of disappointing and upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like you. It may not be easy, but it’s essential if you want your life to reflect your deepest desires, values, and needs.”

Cheryl Richardson




More Resources Related to Set Boundaries with Others

I don’t like to recommend anything I haven’t tried myself.

So, these are some of the books, PDFS and groups that have helped me.



PDFS Related to How to Set Boundaries With Others


Free Mental Health Handbook

Trigger Tracker PDF

CBT Thought Diary

Anxiety Journaling

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Strengthening My Recovery

The Body Keeps the Score & Workbook

Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics

Mother’s Who Can’t Love

Groups Related to How to Set Boundaries With Others

Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families

Hope Recovery



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