How to Set Healthy Boundaries: An Act of Self-Love

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Setting boundaries or personal limits is a true act of self-love and self-care. Establishing what you will and won’t accept from others is critical to forming and sustaining healthy relationships. Smart boundaries are also essential to your happiness and success.

The question is not whether you should have boundaries; it’s how to set healthy boundaries, which can be more complicated than most people realize. That’s why so many of us are bad at it. You need to know what types of boundaries to create and how to enforce those boundaries when others try to cross the line.

Setting boundaries is an act of self-love and self-care

Setting boundaries means you’re willing to disappoint or upset others to preserve your mental and physical health. Setting healthy boundaries is essential to feeling good about yourself and  life.  

Strong boundaries also help you achieve the success, fulfillment and happiness you desire and deserve.  There’s no better act of self-love than to establish and protect healthy boundaries in all areas of your life.

Why you need to set healthy boundaries

Acclaimed research professor and best-selling author Dr. Brené Brown says,  “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”  Setting boundaries keeps people from taking advantage of you and trampling on your physical and mental well-being.

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Why you need to set healthy boundaries

The boundaries you set need to be healthy, not arbitrary.  Healthy boundaries promote respect toward yourself and others. Unhealthy boundaries result in you or others crossing the line which may materialize as disrespecting another’s rights, body, beliefs, values, opinions, talents, or essential needs.

What are the six types of boundaries?

Nedra GloverTawwab is a licensed counselor, relationship expert, and founder of the group therapy practice Kaleidoscope Counseling.  She says that “People don’t know what you want. It’s your job to make it clear. Clarity saves relationships.”

In her work on boundaries, Tawwab draws from cutting-edge research and best practices used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace:  A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, Tawwab discusses six types of boundaries that you need to set.  These include…

  1. Emotional boundaries
  2. Time boundaries
  3. Physical boundaries
  4. Intellectual boundaries
  5. Material boundaries
  6. Sexual boundaries

Setting emotional boundaries

When setting emotional boundaries, you place limits on what you’ll allow so that you can protect your emotional well-being.

Emotional boundaries can include setting limits on how much energy you’re willing to spend on certain relationships or situations. You need to define for yourself what types of behavior and communication is acceptable to you and just as important, what’s flat-out unacceptable.

Establishing emotional boundaries is an act of self-respect and self-compassion that will help preserve your mental and emotional health.

Setting time boundaries

If you allow it, your time will be consumed with others’ wants, needs, and demands; don’t let that happen. It’s time that you take control of your time and create a solid plan for where you’ll spend your precious hours each day.  

Decide how much time you’re willing to devote to work and how much you’ll spend on your physical and mental well-being.  Set aside time for family and friends, and don’t let other factors encroach on that precious time.   

Setting physical boundaries

Wearing a helmet or buckling your seatbelt protects can protect you from physical injury; you do it to be safe. Physical boundaries protect you from injuries that involve your physical and mental well-being. Examples of physical boundary violations include something as simple as standing too close to someone or going through their private belongings without permission. Unwanted touching is a clear and intolerable invasion of physical boundaries. 

Setting intellectual boundaries

Healthy intellectual boundaries involve establishing what you will and will not tolerate from others in regard to your thoughts and ideas.  Allowing others to ridicule your ideas, belittle them, or disregard them entirely is not okay. Setting firm boundaries on what you will and will not accept from others is healthy.

Setting sexual boundaries  

Sexual boundaries are the clear and pre-defined boundaries you set with sexual partners before entering a sexual relationship. These boundaries involve how people touch your body, how they treat you in sexual situations, and what you’re comfortable doing to and with others. Sexual situations are dynamic, so boundaries may need to be clarified, restated, or reset in the moment.

Setting material boundaries

Material boundaries refers to money and possessions. You need to set boundaries on what you plan to keep for yourself. You also need a good plan for how you’ll spend your money, providing for your current and future needs, how much you’ll share with others, and how much you’ll spend on  the extras in life that you deserve and can afford (note, don’t spend it if you can’t afford it!) Setting firm boundaries with others about what you’re willing to share and what you’re not willing to share.

These boundaries are for you and others

Your six boundaries are something you do for yourself and others.  Saying “no” is sometimes necessary and an act of self-care. Tawwab explains, “The ability to say no to yourself is a gift. If you can resist your urges, change your habits, and say yes to only what you deem truly meaningful, you’ll be practicing healthy self-boundaries. It’s your responsibility to care for yourself without excuses.”

The top benefits of establishing healthy boundaries

Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is truly an act of self-love and self-respect.  Strong personal boundaries lead to greater happiness, less stress and anxiety and improved physical and mental health.  Smart personal and professional boundaries also lead to better relationships with others.

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Four steps for setting boundaries

According to experts, there are four steps or phases of setting a new boundary.  First,define the boundary. Second, clearly communicate the boundary. Third, commit to consistently enforcing the boundary. Fourth, assert your rights—establish a consequence— should anyone cross that boundary.

  1.  Define the boundary
  2. Communicate the boundary
  3. Consistently uphold the boundary
  4. Establish consequences for violation

infographic on four steps for setting boundaries


Communicating your boundaries with others is essential, otherwise, others won’t know where you stand. You must clearly and assertively communicate your needs and values to the people in your life. You can do this verbally or in writing, depending on the situation.

When possible, be patient when setting new boundaries. Don’t expect people to get what you want and need from them after one announcement. You’ll have to remind others where your boundaries are; precise and timely communication is key to protecting your boundaries.

You also must be ready and willing to enforce your boundaries. Be prepared to take action if someone crosses a line. In some cases, that means offering a gentle reminder that you’re not willing to accept the boundary infringement and establishing consequences should the boundary ever be crossed again. 

Ultimately, if people won’t respect a boundary that is important to you, you may need to choose to end the relationship altogether.

Don’t negotiate your boundaries

There’s no need to negotiate your boundaries. You have a right to decide what’s right for you, and if you say “the line is here,” then hold to that line and don’t let others cross it. 

Others may try to disagree with you about your boundaries, but that’s not their call to make. Your boundaries are 100 percent up to you; decide what you will and will not tolerate.

Examples of phases and actions to use

There are a number of ways to communicate that you’ve set a boundary.  While “no” is a complete sentence, it should not be your only “go-to.” Here are a few actions and phrases to communicate you have a set boundary and intend to protect it:

  • Action: Setting work email notifications to “silent” on non-work hours
  • Action: Walking away when someone intrudes on a physical boundary.
  • Action: Sending regrets to an event invitation, even though others might judge you if you don’t attend.   
  • Phrase:  “I can’t do it right now, but I can do it tomorrow morning.”
  • Phrase: “That’s not something I can do for you, but here are some others who might be able to help you.”
  • Phrase:  “What you just said feels disrespectful, and I won’t keep talking with you if that continues.”

Below are some more ideas about what boundaries sound like from mellow doodles:

Where should you set boundaries? With parents? Spouse? At work?

At work, you’ll need to set boundaries at work with bosses, colleagues, and employees. You’ll also need boundaries in personal relationships, including with spouses, partners, parents, friends, and children.  

Each individual and situation may require a different approach to setting limits. Here are some books I recommend and each explains how to set effective boundaries in different specific relationships.

“Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.”
Rachel Wolchin

Hold firm to your boundaries

Letting people cross your boundaries is akin to allowing others to mistreat you. The only people in your life who’ll be deeply disappointed—or perhaps even angry-–because you’re setting boundaries are those who benefit from your not having boundaries.  

When people repeatedly attempt to cross your boundaries, what they’re really saying to you is that their needs matter more than yours.  Your time, resources, energy, and needs are important; don’t let anyone ever try to convince you that they are not!

What to keep in mind when people feel hurt that you’ve set a new boundary

Henry Cloud is the co-author of the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. 

Cloud says : “When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility.”

One more boundary to establish: if you make a promise to yourself, keep it

The world has many ways of letting you down, don’t be among them. If you make a promise to yourself, keep it.

Keeping the promises you make to yourself demonstrates personal integrity and commitment to achieving goals. It also helps you develop a strong sense of self-trust and confidence.  Need a little help with this?  Read our post:  

How to Start Keeping Promises You Make to Yourself  

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