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How to set up boundaries in relationships

Holding steady and healthy boundaries in relationships with others is one of the most difficult things to do. However, it's one of the most important parts of sustaining the healing in therapy. Setting boundaries can be tricky, especially if you tend to change your behaviors and suspend your own needs for the approval, support, or happiness of others.

Understand your own needs

Boundaries will be consistently hard to hold if you don't understand your own needs. Take some time to evaluate what you consistently need in order to feel like your best and healthiest self. Here are some examples of self-care that might give you insight into understanding your own needs:

Prioritize quiet time throughout the day

Release the feeling of obligation to emotionally comfort others

Participate in activities that bring you joy and comfortSpend time independently throughout your day

Make room for sunshine, physical activity, or good food

Get a piece of paper and make your own list of needs. What is important to you throughout your day? What makes you feel the best?

Understand what is being asked of you

Think about your significant relationships and when you feel the most frustrated and tired while interacting with those people. It's likely that if you are having issues with boundaries, you are spending your energy taking care of the emotional needs of others by adapting your own behavior. After you spend some time listing out some of your needs, determine when something is being asked of you that does not feel consistent with these needs.

Now, list some times when your needs are ignored or you easily accommodate the needs of others. Be aware of when those times are happening for you.

Practice saying "no"

This is probably the hardest part. In order to continue in your healing journey, you must get in the habit of saying, "no" when things are asked of you that are inconsistent with your own needs. Practice saying, "no" when someone asks you to do anything that fits one of these categories.

Anything that takes more than 10 minutes of your time. Things that disrupt an activity that is already planned or you are already doing. Something you dread

You can also practice saying no to everything for an entire day. Remember, you can always change your mind after you've said no. If it occurs to you that you would enjoy the activity or it fits well into your healthy self-care practices, then you can change your mind! Establishing a habit of saying no challenges your previous way of operating, where we say yes before evaluating the consequences on our time, energy, and emotional space.

Disconnect from the responses of others

If you live a life where you easily agree to things that drain or overwhelm you, then others are going to have a natural response to you changing the dynamics of the relationship. Be prepared for people to have an initially negative response when you start to set boundaries. It's a healthy practice to start disconnecting from the responses of others. Remember, no one is going to take care of you like you can. It isn't healthy to measure how well you are doing in the world from the responses of others. You know you are doing well when you feel energetic, content, rested, and less anxious.


Start sooner rather than later

Undoing a lifetime of unhealthy relational practices is going to take some intentional work, but there's no time like the present. It's time to start protecting your time, energy, and emotional space. Setting up boundaries becomes easier with time and others will learn what they can and cannot expect from you.


If you need help talking through appropriate boundaries with others, therapy can be a great place to discover where your energy is going and why it might be challenging for you to say no to others. Therapy is also a great place to get feedback from your therapist about ways that you might be automatically accommodating the needs of of others leading to anxiety, exhaustion, depression, and low self-esteem.


Want to discuss setting boundaries even more? Listen to this in depth discussion that gives you 13 ways to practice boundaries in your life.

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