Setting Healthy Boundaries

Dr. Paula Durlofsky gives here dos and don'ts for creating safe relationships.


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Inconsistent or absent boundaries can lead to Issues with low self-respect and self-esteem. It can also increase chances of depression, anxiety, anger, and resentment, and lead to conflicted and unsatisfying interpersonal relationships. Boundaries are intimately related to our degrees of happiness and reflect who we are to the world and to the people around us. 

Here are some tips to start on the path to setting healthy boundaries:

Do: Give yourself permission to set boundaries.  Many people are aware of the importance of setting boundaries, but don’t, out of guilt or fear of backlash. When this happens it is important to recognize that you are not responsible for other’s struggles to honor your boundaries. Be patient and kind to yourself during this process.

Don’t: Set flimsy boundaries. These reflect a lack of clarity about yourself, your degree of self-respect, and self-esteem. When we set insubstantial boundaries, we set ourselves up for being taken advantage of, and not being heard or taken seriously by others. 

Do: Tune in to your emotions. Understanding our emotions and gaining a context for them is crucial for setting boundaries. When we are aware of feeling anger or resentment when asked to do something, these emotions signal us to step back and examine what about this interaction makes us feel this way.  If you come to the conclusion you are being mistreated by someone else use it as an opportunity to set a new boundary or to readjust an old one.

Don’t: Be hesitant to verbally define your boundaries. It’s important to let others know your expectations. Don’t leave it to the other person to guess when he has crossed a boundary.  Let him know that he has violated a boundary and what the consequence will be in the future.

Do: Get to know yourself. We can’t set useful boundaries if we don’t understand our physical and emotional expectations, wants and needs. Having a genuine understanding of ourselves is the cornerstone for setting boundaries.

Don’t: Set boundaries that are too rigid or too relaxed. Limits that are too strict can negatively impact our relationships by shutting people out, while boundaries that are too relaxed erode our self-esteem and self-respect, and cause us to feel resentment and guilt. Healthy relationships are built upon both individuals having balanced boundaries.