How to Set Personal Boundaries


Personal boundaries are the rules we set for ourselves within relationships. Healthy boundaries mean preventing others from projecting their beliefs and judgements onto you.

A person with healthy boundaries can say "no" to others and not feel guilty for doing so. This is easier said than done.

Our personal boundaries become violated when we allow the opinions of others to negatively influence our beliefs about ourselves. This is also when we are most vulnerable to manipulation.

It is essential to set limits and personal boundaries for yourself. Your needs are just as important as anyone else's. By giving others the power to hurt us, we lose our sense of self and become resentful, angry, and confused. 

When you find yourself asking, "who am I?" it usually means your personal boundaries need revisiting. 

It's All or None

Many of us can fall victim to the "all or none" cognitive distortion. That is, we make irrational rules and conditions such as "if I don't buy my friend a birthday gift then it means I must not care."

The irrational belief in this case is that we can't be a friend who is caring, loving, and supportive while also making a mistake and forgetting a birthday (or not having time to purchase a gift). But this is simply not true. 

Don't fall into the trap of believing we can't be compassionate and supportive unless we allow others to walk all over us. This way of thinking is very unhealthy for everyone involved. 

Boundary Styles

Boundaries can be either porous, healthy, or rigid. Ideally, we want to practice healthy boundaries. Below are the different boundary styles and examples of what each looks like.

How to Set Personal Boundaries

Boundaries should be based on your beliefs and values (i.e., the things that are important to you). These may not align with the beliefs and values of others--but that's okay. After all, they are YOUR boundaries. Below are some tips on setting personal boundaries. 

Be Prepared

Before entering a situation where boundaries might be violated, set boundaries for yourself explicitly. For example, if you have to interact with someone who is very critical or condescending, tell yourself "if I feel disrespected or judged then I will concisely state my feelings without having to explain and then respectfully remove myself from the conversation."

Plan Ahead

Think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it prior to a difficult encounter. This will help boost confidence in yourself.

Be Clear

You always have the right to express yourself. When you do, make sure it is clear and without ambiguity. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

The Power of "I"

When expressing how you feel, be sure to use "I" rather than "you." When we keep it about our feelings, it comes across much less threatening. Consider how the two statements below might be received.

Statement 1: "You are being mean and hurtful. You don't listen to me."

Statement 2: "I feel hurt by your words. I'm not feeling heard."

Both statements are expressing the same feeling but in very different ways. It's often not WHAT we say but HOW we say it that matters most.

Here are some examples of how to express yourself clearly:

  • "Please don't speak to me that way."

  • "I've decided not to ___"

  • "I've decided to ___"

  • "I feel belittled by you and that will not work for me."

  • "I appreciate your opinion, but I disagree with you."

Use Confident Body Language and a Respectful Tone

Face the other person, make eye contact, and use an appropriate volume of speech (not too loud or too soft). Be respectful but don't shy away from stating how you feel. Many people don't like confrontation and they will avoid stating their beliefs lest others will get upset, angry, or defensive. Quieting your own voice is another way of saying, "I don't respect myself. My feelings don't matter. I don't matter."

Compromise when appropriate

You don't have to compromise. But consider listening to the others' points of view and appreciate their needs as much as possible. Healthy relationships require "give and take." But when you find yourself giving more than taking, make note of it as this probably means personal boundaries need strengthening. 

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. It often involves the abuser denying the victim's experience, contradicting their feelings, or lying about facts with the aim of destabilizing and delegitimizing the victim's beliefs.

Key characteristics of gaslighting include:

  • Lying and Exaggeration: The abuser fabricates false information or exaggerates situations to confuse the victim.

  • Persistent Denial: Despite evidence, the gaslighter denies their behavior, making the victim question their reality.

  • Using Personal Information: The manipulator may use intimate knowledge about the victim to question their thoughts or feelings.

  • Projection and Deflection: The abuser often projects their own negative behaviors onto the victim or deflects attention away from their actions.

  • Gradual Erosion: Gaslighting often starts subtly and becomes more apparent over time, eroding the victim's sense of reality and self-confidence.

  • Isolation: The abuser may try to isolate the victim from friends or family who might support their reality.

Gaslighting can occur in various contexts, including personal relationships, professional environments, and even at a societal level. It can have severe psychological effects, leading to confusion, anxiety, depression, and a loss of trust in one’s own memory and perception. Recognizing and understanding gaslighting is essential to protect against its harmful effects.

Related Links...

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

The Borderline Mother

The Narcissistic Parent

Types of Borderline Mothers

Trauma Bonding - What is it?

What is Projective Identification?


This post was reviewed by a licensed medical professional.