10 Ways to Establish Personal Boundaries

There is one area of personal evolution that can make or break your self-esteem and your ability to have healthy relationships.

It's the ability to set and implement healthy personal boundaries.

Personal boundaries are the imaginary lines we draw around ourselves to maintain balance and protect our bodies, minds, emotions, and time from the behavior or demands of others.

They provide the framework to keep us from being used or manipulated by others, and they allow us to confidently express who we are and what we want in life.

Personal boundaries allow us to be in the driver's seat of our own lives.

Without healthy boundaries or with very weak boundaries, you simply cannot have healthy relationships. You give up a part of yourself to be available or accommodating. Or you become so entangled with another person and their needs (co-dependent behavior) that you lose your own identity. This undermines your integrity and leads to a loss of self-respect — and the respect of those around you.

At the root of personal boundary issues is fear. (Isn't that the root of most issues?) It's the fear we won't be loved, that we aren't good enough or deserving enough just as we are. When we respond to life from this point of emotional weakness, we are letting go of our integrity in order to salvage the crumbs of love and acceptance.

But when you establish personal boundaries, you don't have to accept crumbs. You can get the entire loaf, a full meal of confidence and support, because you will attract people to you who are emotionally healthy themselves — people who respect your boundaries.

People with weak personal boundaries tend to attract controlling, disrespectful, or needy people into their lives. Or they simply train others to take advantage of them because they so willingly allow themselves to be used.

Here are signs you have not set personal boundaries:

  • Saying no when you mean yes or yes when you mean no.
  • Feeling guilty when you do say no.
  • Acting against your integrity or values in order to please.
  • Not speaking up when you have something to say.
  • Adopting another person's beliefs or ideas so you are accepted.
  • Not calling out someone who mistreats you.
  • Accepting physical touch or sex when you don't want it.
  • Allowing yourself to be interrupted or distracted to accommodate another person's immediate wants or needs.
  • Giving too much just to be perceived as useful.
  • Becoming overly involved in someone's problems or difficulties.
  • Allowing people to say things to you or in front of you that make you uncomfortable.
  • Not defining and communicating your emotional needs in your closest relationships.

When you have weak personal boundaries, every act of compliance, self-denial, or neediness chips away at your self-respect and the respect that others have for you. You are in a constant state of insecurity.

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”  ~Joan Didion

The sad irony is that we set weak boundaries believing our behavior will win the love and respect of others. And other people will certainly take advantage of this willing nature. But their respect for you will diminish over time, undermining the love you hoped to maintain.

So how do you begin to establish personal boundaries? For anyone accustomed to being accommodating and compliant, the process of setting and implementing boundaries may feel threatening and unnatural at first. But as you begin to stand up for yourself and your boundaries, you will feel increasingly empowered and confident. You will like and respect yourself, and others will be attracted to your authenticity and self-confidence.

So here's how to set boundaries:

1. Mind Shift

Begin with the mind shift that having personal boundaries is OK. It doesn't mean you are selfish or unloving. It is both completely acceptable and absolutely necessary for healthy relationships. Understand that self-worth comes from defining your life as you want it to be, not from the acceptance or identity of others.

2. Define

Sit down and think about how you have been allowing others to take advantage of you and how you might be accepting situations that are really unacceptable to you. Make a list of things that people may no longer do to you, say to you, or do around you. Decide how you need physical and emotional space. Define your values, belief system, and outlook on life so you have a clear picture of who you are and how you want to live. Get very clear on that.

3. Communicate

Sit down with the people involved in crossing your personal boundaries and kindly communicate your mind shift. Let them know you have spent some time thinking about what is important and acceptable to you and what isn't. Let them know how they have crossed your boundaries in the past, and ask them to respect and support your new boundaries.

4. Expect

Expect that this conversation will feel uncomfortable and difficult, especially if you are a pleaser. There may be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved. That's OK. They'll get used to your new boundaries over time. Be aware that some people in your life may fall away as a result of your outlook and demand for respect. But these aren't people you want in your life anyway. You will find you attract new, supportive, and healthy-minded people in your life. Whatever you do, don't compromise your values, integrity, and self-respect simply to keep someone in your life. Your soul can't sustain that.

5. Reinforce

It may take some time to train yourself and others around your new boundaries. Continue to reinforce them so that you are taken seriously and respected. Practice saying no when you are asked to do something you don't want to do. Create a plan for times when someone crosses your boundaries. Let them know what they are doing. Ask them to stop immediately. Walk away from any push-back or negative comments without acquiescing or getting angry. Over time, you and the other person will realize you are serious.

6. Reward

Be sure to acknowledge and reward those who are supporting and respecting your personal boundaries. Thank them and let them know the positive impact it has had on your life. This will motivate them to continue their behavior.

7. Reciprocate

Remember that respecting boundaries goes two ways. Examine your own behavior and words to see where you might be crossing another person's boundaries. Work to change those behaviors so that you are reflecting the respect and support you want for yourself.

8. Stay Flexible

There's a difference between healthy boundaries and rigid boundaries. You don't want to be a controlling or dictatorial person. That's not the goal. The goal is a healthy relationship with those close to you, balanced by a sense of understanding, mutual support, and give-and-take. There may be occasions when you choose to bend your boundaries or allow someone to cross the line. When someone is hurt or sad, needs extra support, asks for an exception with respect and kindness — these are times to show flexibility and love. As you gain confidence around your boundaries, you will know when and how to bend them.

9. Be Patient

If you have had weak personal boundaries for years, be aware that this change doesn't happen overnight. Disengaging from the emotions and beliefs that led you to weak boundaries requires practice, and sometimes it requires the support of a counselor. Begin to recognize and challenge the limiting beliefs that undermine your practice of setting boundaries. Try to require your boundaries are respected even when you feel unsure or uncomfortable.

10. Believe

Believe in yourself and your value as a unique individual who is worthy of love and respect. Trust your instincts and feelings about what you do and don't want in your life. No one knows better than you who you are and what you desire. Don't allow others to define that for you. Practice self-confidence and self-love until it feels natural. Setting and requiring boundaries is a great way to practice this.

When you define and implement personal boundaries in your life, you will find that fear diminishes significantly. You will feel more empowered and self-confident because you are communicating your self-worth to those around you.  The more you practice holding fast to your boundaries, the more love, respect, and support you will find in your life.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 51 comments
  • Jon Sollie

    Good morning Barrie!

    When I started reading this post I got a little nervous. What came to mind were several people I’ve known in my life who seem to thrive on being overly assertive, self-absorbed and downright pains in the behind. As the post unfolded, you covered these situations in your usual thorough manner, and put my concerns to rest.

    What great insight for so many of us who tend to live wimpy, “walk all over me” lives. It seems to me that once we achieve a balance between the personal boundaries we set, and the world we live in, a whole lot of self-respect and confidence will come our way. Thanks Barrie!

    Be well and prosper,


      Barrie Davenport

      Thank you for your kind words Jon. There is a balance between maintaining boundaries and being a pain in the butt! 🙂 The goal is healthy, flexible boundaries implemented with loving kindness.

  • Bobbi Emel

    Barrie, thanks for this important post. I especially like your tip #8 about staying flexible. It’s a tough balance to be personally flexible while keeping the boundaries firm, but you have hit the nail on the head that being controlling is not the goal. Firmness, assertiveness, and kindness can develop healthy boundaries much better than rigidity.

      Barrie Davenport

      I so agree Bobbi. It is the same skill set you use when raising children. You let them know their boundaries. You enforce them with a firm and loving hand. And you show flexibility and a willingness to make appropriate exceptions. It’s a fine balance.

  • Mikey D


    Do you have any ideas or suggestions for boundaries people should set? I understand that it would be a very personal issue with regards to many boundaries. Everyone has a different tolerance for the behaviors they will put up with in other people. That being said, do you think there are any specific areas that people should consider setting boundaries for (i.e., what circumstances you say yes/no to requests, etc.)?

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Mikey,
      There are certainly some universal boundaries we should establish — others shouldn’t physically harm us or touch us in ways we don’t like. We shouldn’t accept rudeness, disrespectful comments, lying, or constant put-downs. Anything that causes emotional or psychological trauma should be included in our boundaries. But some boundaries are quite personal — how much time you wish to spend with people, how much you want to give of yourself to another person, etc. You have to use your own feelings and instincts as a guide. You know what makes you feel uncomfortable, drained, or overwhelmed. You may be able to deal with a little of that when necessary and appropriate. But you shouldn’t be consistently sacrificing your own needs to those of others. You just can’t sustain that in a healthy way.


      Found my way here, and this is really where I would like your thoughts. How do you suggest defining, communicating, and reinforcing the boundaries that are needed?


      Although it is true that you should not accept disrespectful behavior, often you simply have no choice. The reason they violate your personal boundaries in the first place is because they can, because of Imbalance of Power – what if disrespectful person who violates your dignity and privacy is your boss, parent, teacher or physically stronger workplace or school bully?


      Excellent question…I love this question and how you worded it…it was exactly what I was thinking….Thank you

  • MikaelaD

    As children, many of us had those boundaries ripped to shreds and consequently, struggle with keeping them as adults. I linked back to your post b/c I see a connection between keeping proper boundaries and being a creative: http://dilectusmeusmihi.blogspot.com/2012/08/top-five-friday-shutting-up-critics.html

    Barrie, thank you once again for writing such inspiring words!

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Mikael,
      Yes, you are right — many of us did have our boundaries disrespected as children and teenagers. Sometimes parents think children don’t have or need boundaries. But it is a huge part of everyone’s dignity, regardless of age. And children are so powerless. We need to respect them all the more to allow them some dignity while we are trying to raise and socialize them. I think there is a connection between boundaries and everything, including creativity. Without boundaries, our energy is absorbed by the emotions that come with low self-esteem. We can’t give our energy fully to anything else.

  • Dave E Wilkes

    What an excellent explanation of a necessary skill in having a good self esteem.

    I think that the trouble is, a lot of us who have low self esteem don’t really know what our boundaries should be. We are so used to not living without any!

    And so, as you say, expect that it will feel threatening and unnatural at first, and choose simple barriers, such as choosing in advance which TV programme we would like to watch in the evening, and expressing that desire to our partner etc.

    And as we get used to the discomfort that making a request like that makes us feel we can then get used to the feeling and learn to accept it as we grow our boundaries one at time.

    Thank you for explaining a complicated subject in such a clear manner

      Barrie Davenport

      You are right Dave. Sometimes we have this vague sense of unhappiness or dissatisfaction, but we’ve trained ourselves that this is the way life should be. But we must remind ourselves that we are adults with as much right to our choices, actions, and beliefs as the next guy. Who will stand up for us if we don’t stand up for ourselves.

  • Sindhujaa

    Love you Barrie 🙂
    Your words always help me get back on track.
    Thank you, for all the wonderful work you do.

      Barrie Davenport

      You are so welcome. I’m so glad that my words are helpful to you. Love back to you!


      Thanks you so much Barrie

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  • Davis Nguyen

    This is great stuff Barrie.

    “Feeling guilty when you do say no.”

    I think a lot of people have this problem. One of my mentors would always say, “Have things you will never compromise on.” One thing for me is that people meet on his time even if it is 5 am at his office.

    Having principles you will never give up on makes saying no to people a lot easier and setting boundaries a lot more possible.

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  • Cheryl Ragsdale

    Hi Barrie,
    Ouch! “People with weak personal boundaries tend to attract controlling, disrespectful, or needy people into their lives.” That’s terrible. But that idea keeps me in the driver’s seat when I consider defending my personal boundaries.

    This post needs to be printed out and referred back to. The changes you’re talking about require life-long practice. People disrespect casually and on purpose. Standing up for yourself gets easier as you go along. It’s important to have someone in your corner to help along the way.

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  • Vickie Fowler

    I enjoyed this article quite a lot! I think readers will be surprised at some of the examples of weak boundaries. For example, giving too much to be perceived as useful is probably something a lot of us do, without putting a lot of thought into why. Having a helpful nature can back fire on us as easily as purposely putting our needs last (because we can’t say no). Interesting article. I just published one on nasty break ups and how to avoid them by honoring our personal boundaries. Vickie Fowler

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  • Sehar

    WaaoW! What a detailed and impressive post Berri. I really have the habbit of not speaking when actually i should speak… Even i dont have the ability to correct others when they say something wrong.. Plzz tell me how to stop someone when he/she is criticising others ignorantly n with boasting? How should i tell them that they are wrong? Specially my ignorant relatives.. Actually i think if i did this it would be their disrespect, n they will start hating me.. Plz plz plz advise me in this situation..

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  • Elizabeth

    I had first read your piece on being highly sensitive and followed the link to your article about boundaries.
    I feel like a real mess. I unfortunately am extremely sensitive and especially when there is unfair treatment or injustice and am burden by this. As a child always hearing you are too sensitive, In my abusive marriage, never being understood, heard or able to express my self while my boundaries appeared to be non-existence. In addition I try to please and make people happy. I never really thought much about this from the stand point of why I did it was to be accepted and loved. Yet you definitely feel very unloved when misunderstood and told to calm down. I have also have had emotional outbursts and breakdowns in difficult and abusively cruel moments that left me feeling like I was loosing my mind while being told I am a Crazy B_ t_ h. Yet, graced by god and that my sensitivity was a necessary trait needed to perform my life purpose. As a professional and successful recruiter of 30 years I have a easy natural ability relating to people. It is interesting how people in an interview will just open up to me and also how I can pinpoint exactly things about what someone might be struggling with within the context of an interview. People look at me and are often blown away by the accuracy of my perception given I had little information. I am very good at matching people to company cultures and determining if the job will feed a persons inner beast ( you might say). Those are the positives but unfortunately trying to balance the harmony of my soul that has been so miss treated and fighting for my personal boundaries as they are being violated has left what I believe is damage to my internal compass. I do admit that I am also a strong willed straight forward blunt person as my astrological sign pinpoints but I can also be very shy, I am extremely giving ( people pleasing) and have a genuine true kind heart. I sense people and I have always said I do not belong here and feel I am in a time warp. I have also had a friend who equally is hyper sensitive and she too would feel so much pain from this trait. I constantly reminded her that being so sensitive is necessary to have balance in our civilization. Without sensitivity this world would not have the level of compassion shown around the world. If you were to have told me while in high school I was going to be a recruiter and work in many industries including male dominated construction industry I would not have believed that. I personally tend to be outgoing but can be quickly shut down and have also lived a life of shame and a ton of regrets. I am trying to determine how to resolve all the damage, especially regrets and shame. I initial ran a google search trying to find out if a person cries so deeply and unaccountably from their emotions or soul, I think that there is a direct correlation between the emotions and soul in which likely has or causes us to be hyper-sensitive. I need to resolve the enormous burdens I carry regarding shame and being so deeply emotionally. I am in a desperate place in my life I feel my health is being compromised greatly if I do not learn how and what to do, to minimize the burdens they cause me. hen it comes to mental and emotional hurt. I go from being so hurt and sad to wanting to rip someones head off for further impacting my deep emotional upset. Any Advice or suggestions.
    I truly want to have peace and balance and am working on removing the key component (ex-husband) completely from my life. I need to start somewhere doing something that will prevent people from have that kind of power over me. I seem to always be left with a fair amount of anger that I can no longer process in my being. HELP!

  • Peter Vujin

    You only need to develop boundaries around half-persons. Half-persons are the majority of personally disordered people, to wit, 99% of the American people. These people are sick, because no healthy person would invade another’s boundaries. Therefore, those that you need to gard from are not actual humans, just half-humans, and you must not entertain or tolerate them at all. Those are the worst of beasts that will wound your soul, so you are better off feeding yourself to the lions. Ostracize and avoid them, if that does not help, get a protective order, if that does not help, report them to the police.

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  • Lisa

    Lately, I have had to set boundaries with one of the managers who takes care and lives in my apartment complex… Why is it always so awkward to say what it is we need and why does it make me feel scared and
    Threatened? I am just taking care, and my body mind and heart and soul knows what’s best for me.
    I have to process what it is what I am going through, and I guess it just stirs up feelins of powerlessness from my past when I couldn’t say what I needed to feel safe with my siblings and parents.. I never was heard so I am reshaping my world and getting assistance how to rebuild what feels good for me, safe for me, so I can have a better sense of self worth and self esteem… The efforts are necessary and worthwhile…

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  • Donna

    How sad that your entire article left out rigid boundaries. These can be as damaging as weak boundaries. Please include both ends of the spectrum in your next discussion. Thank you.

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  • RichardN

    I have been learning about improving self esteem for a while, I have read many articles about improving self confidence and and self acceptance, they all missed this point! it’s till now that i realized that the obstacle that was holding me from succeeding is my unawareness of my weak boundaries.
    Thanks for this article!

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  • Misty

    These are extremely helpful! I found them in searching for examples of how to set personal boundaries as I’m giving a talk on “provider burnout” to a group later this week for nurse’s week. Would you be if I used some of your examples in my talk? I would reference your name and webpage. Thanks!!!

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  • Kearon

    Thank you Barrie for such useful insights. These are in line with the plans I have for the new chapter in all aspects of my life.

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