What Even Are Boundaries And How Do You Set Them?

You’ve probably heard people talking about the importance of setting boundaries in both their personal and professional lives, but what does that even mean? The concept is relatively simple, but putting it into action is a whole other story. However, if you want to protect your energy and ensure you’re being treated with a basic level of respect, they’re absolutely vital. Here’s what you need to know.

What are boundaries?

To put it simply, boundaries are the lines we draw around ourselves to protect our emotional, mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being. They set hard limits on what we will and will not allow and help us to communicate what we feel is unacceptable in family dynamics, friendships, romantic relationships, workplaces, and more.

Boundaries help us ensure our needs are met, our feelings are respected, and that we’re not being taken advantage of or treated like sh*t. Without them, we end up in toxic situations that can destroy our sense of self-worth and leave us feeling frustrated, resentful, and alone.

How to set boundaries and ensure your own well-being

  1. Develop self-awareness and examine your values. In order to set boundaries, you have to identify exactly what you consider to be unacceptable. Take some time for serious self-reflection to examine your values, beliefs, and needs. What behaviors do you consider to be deal breakers? Once you figure out where you draw the line, you can stick to it.
  2. Communicate your boundaries clearly and unapologetically. You can’t expect people not to do things you find offensive, inappropriate, or violating if they don’t know you feel that way. Not only should you be upfront and honest about what your boundaries are, but you should never apologize or act as if they’re some kind of inconvenience. Boundaries are something you put in place to protect yourself. What’s there to be sorry for about that?
  3. Enforce them consistently — don’t cut anyone any slackIt doesn’t matter if you’re desperately trying to impress the CEO of a company you’re trying to get a job at or you’re dating someone new that you really hope things work out with — your boundaries are not up for discussion or modification. The minute you bend or make an exception, people will begin to think they can manipulate you and get away with anything. That’s a big nope!
  4. Learn to say no. This is basically Boundaries 101. Many of us have innate people-pleasing tendencies and we end up saying yes to things we can’t or don’t want to be a part of because we don’t want to disappoint people or hurt their feelings. Screw that! Setting boundaries is all about knowing when something doesn’t align with your values or doesn’t make you feel good. When that happens, there’s only one word that needs to be spoken: “No.”
  5. Work with a therapist if you think it would be helpful. Depending on your background, you might find it really hard to set boundaries and stick to them. That’s okay! In this case, the best thing you can do is to work with a licensed professional to give you the tools, skills, and coping mechanisms you need. They can also help you process the events in your life that have made it hard or even unattractive to set boundaries. This can make a huge difference to your life, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you need it.
  6. Don’t forget about tech boundaries, too. This one is for all my WFM or hybrid girlies (and, well, people of all genders). It’s far too easy to “just answer this one quick email” at 7 p.m. because it came through on your phone and you’re just watching “Drag Race” anyway. Same goes for “working late” since your laptop’s right next to you on the couch and you might as well — even though you’re not getting paid for it. My sweet summer child, you’re acting a damn fool. When 5 p.m. (or whenever your shift ends), you’re done for the evening. There’s nothing in your inbox that can’t wait until tomorrow morning. Boundaries!!
  7. Don’t take responsibility for sh*t that’s not yours. This is something every last one of us needs to put into practice on a daily basis. Protect your emotional space by not taking responsibility for others’ feelings and not allowing others to dictate your emotional state. Especially as women, we often take on the role of “fixer” and we feel responsible for/guilty about stuff that literally has nothing to do with us. Uh-uh, no more. Their sh*t = their problem. End of story.
  8. Make time management your friend. Set boundaries on your time to avoid overcommitting and overextending yourself. This is the social/personal extension of the work boundary. As much as you want to live an active life and be everywhere and do everything at once, you’re going to burn out. You are a human being and you need downtime to decompress, re-energize, and just enjoy your own company.
  9. Embrace self-care as often as possible. Don’t underestimate the importance of doing things that just make you feel good. It doesn’t have to be bubble baths and meditation sessions — maybe you see going to get your nails done as self-care, or cooking a lengthy, in-depth recipe from scratch. Whatever it is that makes you feel soothed and whole, go for it. When you’re in a good place mentally and emotionally, it’s that much easier to set and maintain boundaries.
Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill