How To Establish Personal Boundaries – The Complete Guide

Setting Boundaries To Stop Burnout

In this article: Learn to Set Personal Boundaries And Armor Yourself With A Key Healthy Coping Skill to Prevent Burnout, Stress and Overwhelm.

What Are Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are emotional, physical, and mental limits that each individual must establish based on their own needs and desires to protect him or herself from being used, manipulated or even violated by others. Setting boundaries is a personal responsibility, rooted in self-care and a desire to cultivate wellbeing. The premise is that no one and nothing can hurt you if you don’t allow it.

Boundaries are commonplace in our society, countries have borders, homes have fences, and doors, and offices are either separate rooms or cubicles and these serve to maintain security and a sense of privacy. Personal boundaries can serve us in the same ways.

Boundaries are crucial to healthy relationships, a healthy self, and a healthy life. Sustaining and setting boundaries is a skill that many people have not learned or mastered, but is essential for general wellbeing. Boundaries encompass all areas of self and life, including emotional, mental, spiritual, and in our relationships with others.  

For many, setting boundaries is a new and challenging concept that centers on understanding, knowing and appreciating your personal restrictions.   

Boundaries are wide and varied:

  • They can be simply the act of saying no to a friend who requests a favor that will infringe on your own wellbeing
  • Clear limits as to what you will or will not do in order to protect your health and sanity
  • Setting rules and ensuring your kids follow them while living at home
  • Setting limits within a romantic relationship as to what you will tolerate 
  • Boundaries can also involve a personal decision as to how much you will tolerate in any given situation, for example needing to take a time out during an argument, or leaving or staying to work things out when a spouse has an affair
  • Not lending money to people who historically do not pay you back
  • Setting limits to protect your emotional health
  • Not doing things you don’t want to or like to do just because someone else wants to
  • Limiting how much stress you will endure at work, or in life 
  • Setting time for work and making sure that work does not interfere with family and leisure time
  • And, of course, setting limits in order to reduce stress, overwhelm and burnout

In essence, personal boundaries provide you with security and safety; they are your armor in ensuring self-care, and a better you!

It Is Not Selfish To Take Care Of Yourself 

Let’s just stop for a moment and consider this…

IS IT REALLY SELFISH TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF ?

This is something we must realize when we want to learn to set boundaries and understand our limits. For many this is an obstacle. 

Why are your needs any less important than those of others?

The belief that self-care is selfish is a false one. No one else can take care of you but you. No one else can understand and identify what impacts your wellbeing, sanity and stress levels but you.

Self-care makes you better, and when you don’t take care of yourself, you are not good to others. 

When we put the needs of others before our own…

We compromise our own wellbeing, and eventually this places undue burden on ourselves and our relationships.

When we learn to say no, or to set limits on what we will tolerate so as to not compromise our own personal values, needs and desires we do so with the purpose of self-care, and this is one of the most important functions we as humans have in our lives. 

How Boundaries Help You Manage Stress

  • Are you exhausted because you have no time to yourself?
  • Are you so busy running around doing for others that you cannot do for yourself?
  • Are you working late because you need to finish your co-workers assignment?
  • Are you stuck watching someone’s kid on Saturday night, when you intended to go out to dinner?
  • Are you are ready to pull your hair out because this is your fourth weekend in a row working overtime?
  • Do you lack inner peace because once again, someone insulted you and you did not confront them?
  • Are you a people pleaser?
  • Is sleep a problem because you cannot stop the endless resentments flowing through your mind about all the things you did that day that you did not really want to do? Or perhaps you feel guilt-ridded because you actually said no to someone?

The skill of setting boundaries is one of the most effective stress management tools. There are several reasons for this. 

  • First, without boundaries you are likely to be running around doing everything for others, without taking care of your own needs. This is profoundly and fundamentally stressful. The mere absence of understanding your own needs, desires and limits makes it difficult to take care of yourself, and without self-care, stress is bound be rampant in your life. 
  • Second, without boundaries you may feel that others are taking advantage of you, which can also cause immense mental and emotional stress.
  • Third, the lack of a comfort zone, which is provided by setting limits, can make you feel like you are always living on the edge, without a safety net, which also promotes stress and its consequent responses in the body.

When we don’t set boundaries…

  • We do for others at the expense of ourselves
  • We neglect our own needs 
  • We have no safety net or comfort zone

THIS CAN LEAD TO BURNOUT, STRESS AND BEING OVERWHELMD

It isn’t always easy to set boundaries, however it is a vital skill that promotes optimal emotional and mental health and keeps stress at bay.

Key Considerations In Setting Boundaries

  • Set and understand your limits— In order to have healthy boundaries, you must know where you stand. This means that you must identity your limits, in all facets of yourself, including emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Boundaries mean limits, and this means that you must be aware of what you can tolerate without stress or discomfort. Self-care is at the core of boundaries, it is what drives them to be set, and so they are very individual and personal choices that stem from and support the need to take good care of ourselves. What makes you uncomfortable may not do so for someone else. This can also become an obstacle, as one person may think, “hey I would do this, so should they,” not understanding that the other person does not feel the same. This is why a mutual respect is required on both sides to maintain a healthy relationship, be it a friend, lover, or family.
  • Self-awareness—setting boundaries requires a deep level of self-awareness and honoring of our own feelings. For example, if a friend calls and says she needs you to babysit, but you are exhausted and have had a long week, and were planning to just relax, at this point it is crucial for you to identify that fatigue and your own needs and respect the fact that you simply cannot say yes, even though this will put your friend in a bind. 
  • Deal With Pitfalls – our own self-doubt, guilt, and fear are all potential pitfalls when it comes to our health, wellbeing, and setting limits. We may be fearful of how the other person will respond or that they may not like us if we say no to them. Guilt is a feeling that often prevents many from saying no and setting limits because we feel it is our duty to be helpful, take care of others, in general to be good parents, friends, and lovers. Doubting if we are deserving of the self-care that boundaries provide is another pitfall that results in our doing more than we want to or are able to. This self-doubt result in us putting the needs of others before our own. All of the above are issues that place focus on the other person, rather than ourselves and they must be addressed and understood before we can move forward to setting healthy boundaries. The truth is that letting self-doubt, guilt and fear makes the needs of other’s more important than our own is a recipe for disaster in reaching optimal levels of wellbeing within ourselves and in our own lives.
  • Resentment And Discomfort – The two most important feelings when considering the setting of boundaries is resentment and discomfort. Discomfort stems from doing or acting in a way that is actually reaching beyond our own comfort limits. Discomfort is a sign of guilt that occurs when we allow others impose their views and expectations on to us. Resentment occurs when you do not feel appreciated or feel that someone is taking advantage of you. This can easily occur when we push ourselves beyond our own limits, typically as a result of guilt because we want to be good friends, wives, husbands, workers, daughters, sons, siblings and parents and we don’t want to say no. This is a hallmark of co-dependency where we allow others to impose their expectations on us. Ironically, this feeling is misdirected, as it is you who has actually allowed yourself to go beyond your own limits since no one can make you doing anything that you don’t want to do. 
  • Being Direct— one of the key skills in setting boundaries is the ability to be direct with the people in your life. This means learning to say no. Saying no can mean using different communication styles with different people. However, no matter whom you are dealing with be it parents, kids, friends or your spouse, setting boundaries requires a clear-cut and direct dialogue.  
  • The Caretaker Syndrome – How you were raised is a significant obstacle in preserving and setting boundaries. If you were always a caretaker, and your family placed undue expectations on you when growing up that drained you physically and emotionally, then ignoring your own needs is likely to be a norm into adulthood. Consider all your relationships; is there a healthy give and take? 
  • Make Self-Care A Priority – Making our own self-care a priority requires that we give ourselves the permission to put ourselves first, which motivates us to set clear and healthy boundaries are work, home and in social situations. Self-care also means recognizing that your feelings are honorable and these feelings serve as essential clues about what makes us happy and content.  
  • Be Assertive – it isn’t enough to create boundaries, we need to follow through. Even though we know intellectually that others aren’t mind readers, we still expect them to know what we want, what hurts our feelings or infringes on our limits. But, of course, they don’t know and they are not mind readers! It is critical we assertively communicate with the other person about our boundaries and when they have crossed them in a respectful and honorable way.   
  • Letting Go – of course, there will be people who will not understand or respect your boundaries, and they will continue to infringe upon them repeatedly. Being proactive in your own self-care also means letting these people go whenever possible, in order to remove toxic relationships from your life.  
  • Get Help – Depending on where we are within our own mental, emotional, and behavioral state, we may need professional help in order to come to a healthy place where we can be comfortable with setting boundaries and with self-care in general. A good therapist can help us get in touch with our issues, so we can be more present for ourselves and when we are in a better place, we can be a better friend, coworker, father, mother, daughter, son, husband, or wife.

Setting Boundaries To Manage Stress

Boundaries are crucial to living a healthy life. Specifically, when thinking about reducing stress and risk for burnout, boundaries can save you the serious consequences that these situations can bring.    

Stress Reducing Considerations In Setting Boundaries:

  • Never allowing people to say things that you or others in front of you that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • Saying no as needed
  • Stop feeling guilty when you say no
  • Setting limits on work time 
  • Communicating and defining your emotional needs in your closest relationships 
  • Avoiding becoming overly involved in other people’s problems or difficulties with your loved ones
  • Putting yourself at the top of your to-do list
  • Making yourself a priority
  • Not allowing others to pull you away from your plans
  • Not giving too much just to be seen as useful
  • Acting from a perspective of self-care rather than people pleasing 
  • Allowing yourself to be distracted to accommodate another person’s immediate needs and wants
  • Saying no to sex or physical touch when you don’t want it
  • Calling out a person who mistreats you
  • Acting within your own integrity and values instead of pleasing others

When you have weak boundaries, you wind up doing more than you are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of, or going beyond your own limits. 

How To Establish Personal Boundaries

For any one accustomed to being compliant and accommodating, the process of implementing boundaries may feel unnatural at first, or downright awful. However, as you stand up for your boundaries and yourself, you will feel increased confidence and empowerment.

Saying no will become second nature, as practice makes perfect. You will respect and like yourself, and others will be attracted to your authenticity and self-confidence. 

Steps To Setting Personal Boundaries

Define

Write down how you have allowed other people to take advantage of you and how you have accepted situations that are really not acceptable to you. Think about making a list of things that others may no longer do to you, do around you, or say to you. Make a decision about your values, your outlook on life, and your belief system. Become extremely clear on that.

Changing Your Mindset 

Start with the mind shift that having personal boundaries is good for you that it does not mean that you are selfish or don’t care about others. Recognize that your self-worth is key in managing your wellbeing and avoiding stress, burnout and overwhelm. Realize that you are not defined by the acceptance of others.  

Learning To Say No 

Learning to say no is key in furtherance of having healthy boundaries that allow us to better manage stress, and avoid feeling burned out and overwhelmed. If you have been a caretaker or a “yes man/woman” your whole life, it will be a foreign thing to say no, but you have to start somewhere. As you say no more often, be mindful of and note the rewards of self-care and it will motivate you to continue.

Expect Discomfort

You can expect that the conversation you have with others will feel difficult and uncomfortable, especially if you have been a people-pleaser. There may be some push-back and defensiveness around those people involved in pushing back your boundaries. That’s just fine. They will get used to your setting boundaries after a while. 

Be wary that some people in your life may fall away as a result of your new outlook and ask for respect, but these are not the kind of people you want in your life anyway. You can find new, attractive, healthy-minded, and supportive people in your life. Whatever you do, don’t compromise your values, self-respect, and dignity just to keep someone in your life. You just can’t sustain that.   

Reinforce 

It may take some time to train others around you and yourself to reinforce your boundaries. Create a plan for those times when someone actually crosses your boundaries. Tell them what they are doing. Ask them to stop right away. Over time, the other person will realize that you are serious.

Be Flexible

There is a big difference between rigid and healthy boundaries. Boundaries are fluid and can change over time and in different circumstances. For example, if a friend calls and asks you to babysit so they can go out to a club when you have made other plans or just want to relax is one thing, it’s quiet another if they have a medical emergency and really need to leave their kids. At this point, it would not be unreasonable to say yes. As you gain confidence, you will know how and when to bend your boundaries.  

Be Patient With Yourself

Realize that this skill will not be perfected overnight, especially if setting boundaries is something that is new to you. Start to become aware of, challenge and recognize the hidden beliefs that undermine your setting your boundaries. Try to make sure your boundaries are respected even when you feel uncomfortable or unsure.  

Attract Calm And Peace And Believe In Yourself 

You need to believe in your value as a unique individual who is worthy of self-care, calm and peace. Trust your feelings and instincts about what you don’t and do want in your life. No one knows you or your needs better than you do. Never allow others to set that boundary for you. You need to practice self-respect until it feels like a natural thing and setting boundaries is a good way to practice this.  

When you implement your own boundaries, you will find that your fear goes down greatly. You will feel more self-confident and empowered when you are showing your self-worth to those around you. The more you hold fast to your boundaries, the more you will feel relaxed, calm and at peace. 

Final Thoughts

Setting boundaries is a critical skill for reducing stress, and preventing burnout.

Boundaries are at the core of taking better care of yourself and this skill will go a long way to allowing you live a healthier, happier, safer, and more calm life.

Get started today!  

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