The Secrets To Setting Boundaries
Updated: Feb 26
In the context of healing and interpersonal relationships, the word “boundary” is a verb more than a noun. It’s an action that shapes and defines things.
Most people see boundaries as a limitation or need for protection in relationships. And while they certainly can be, it’s helpful to consider them from a broader, more positive context.
Boundaries are required to manifest anything. By definition, the boundary of any object is the very thing that gives it its shape.
Similarly, our relationships are shaped by the boundaries that define their form. For example, the boundaries of a friendship or work relationship might be that there is no romantic interaction. That limitation helps define the shape and context of the relationship. But what’s important to note is that “limitation” in this context does not mean loss.
Defining boundaries is actually an act of empowerment that helps us to co-create our relationships. By setting boundaries for what we don’t want, we define the form and reveal the context for the things we do — the rich details that actually define that relationship. In other words, there has to be a “no” to something so there can be a “yes” to something else.
Boundaries create safety.
Even when we don’t communicate them verbally, boundaries are everywhere. They live in the root chakra, which is responsible for our sense of security, safety, and fear. In a lot of ways, the ability to set boundaries is the remedy for that. They provide a sense of safety — physical, practical, emotional — and a code of conduct for what's appropriate behavior in the context of different dynamics.
I need you to pick me up on time because I don’t feel safe in this environment.
I don’t do “friends with benefits.” I appreciate our emotional intimacy, but I don’t want to get physical.
Sharing your boundaries is an act of radical honesty.
While the practice of communicating boundaries can be intimidating, it’s actually an opportunity for more freedom, peace, and deeper connection in relationships.
It's a chance to manage and clearly define expectations as opposed to being in uncertainty or resentment because parameters are conflicting, confused, or unmet. There is often tremendous relief and safety in lines being drawn. There is also power and confidence that comes from being able to communicate your needs and staying true to that authentic version of yourself.
Boundaries are meant to define dynamics, not control them.
In a healthy dynamic, the other person can't really give you what you want if you haven't given them a clue. So, it’s incredibly helpful to communicate your needs, wants, and limits. But bear in mind, boundaries should be used to clarify relationship dynamics and create mutual workability, not to manipulate or control the other person.
Communicating boundaries powerfully takes practice and consistency.
How to set boundaries with intention and understanding, regardless of the outcome.
Every boundary is different, so there’s no hard and fast approach to creating them.
Different contexts and different relationships require different kinds of boundaries, so be appropriate to the situation. Where the boundary needs to be harsh and firm and unbending — allow that. And, where there can be softness and open heartedness — allow that. We should all have some boundaries that are absolute.
We tend to avoid setting boundary-setting conversations because we’re afraid of:
> upsetting the balance/dynamic
> losing something we want/love
Boundaries require agreement — and reveal a wealth of valuable information.
Anytime someone sets a boundary with you, they're asking for an agreement and you have a right to say yes or no. Without agreement — and honoring that agreement in action — the boundary doesn’t really exist.
Similarly, when you set a boundary with someone else, they have to choose to enter into it. And, you get clear on who they are by how they show up in that response. If they cannot meet your agreement, you get to choose where to go from there.
There’s great power in co-creating your boundary in conversation. Asking, “How is this for you?,” after you’ve shared is helpful in gauging the other person and acknowledging their own choice in the matter. It’s also for you because what you’re really asking beneath that is: “Who are you? What are you about? What are your values? What do you actually care about?”
For example: You share with a new romantic partner that you’d like to build an emotional connection before having sex. Your thinking might be, “If you're into me, and I need this slow pace, are you the kind of person who wants to honor where I'm at?” They may not be willing to meet you where you are, but either way, that information will be very telling.
Boundaries will get crossed.
Just because you set a boundary doesn’t mean it will be honored, even when you’ve gotten verbal agreement from the other person. For example, there are plenty of people in domestic violence situations where the victim sets a boundary “don't hit me” and the perpetrator continues to hit.
In that context, the victim has to consider a firmer, more impactful boundary like, “I'm leaving,” or they stay and continue to navigate that situation. There's no guarantee that someone's going to agree and respect the boundary. What matters most is how you choose to respond when it’s crossed.
Abuse — whether it's in a work context, a marriage, a friendship, a student-teacher dynamic or a therapist-patient dynamic — is abuse. It's a boundary crossing and the context doesn't change it.
What do we do when it's hard for us to set a boundary?
The answer is to do the trauma healing work.
Boundaries are an act of agency and a commitment to your truth in action.
People often allow their boundaries to be crossed or avoid setting them altogether because they have a belief that “if I do (or don't do) XYZ, I won't get what I want.”
When you sacrifice your own truth by appeasing, avoiding, or silencing yourself to go along with, you’re committing an act of self-betrayal. It’s a trauma response that leaves you coping with uncertainty and fear. And then there are all sorts of internal consequences to that, like loss of self-esteem, depression, passive-aggressive behavior, and anger that is turned in against ourselves through really negative narratives.
When the discomfort of betraying your own boundaries — and the inauthenticity that comes with that — outweighs the discomfort of honoring them, you will find the space to stand strong or walk away from that situation.