Six Ways To Establish Healthy Boundaries

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 

Growing up, I was often called a “good” girl. A “sweet” girl. A “kind” girl. I was courteous and polite, respectful through and through. And I considered my “nice” demeanor a virtue. Pleasing others made me feel good. It filled my heart and cup. I also had lots of friends. In elementary school, everyone knew my name.

But sometime between childhood and now, I realized my people pleasing had become problematic. I realized it was, in many ways, hurting me, because my self-worth was tied up in others. I put the feelings and needs of my friends and family members ahead of my own, and this caused me to become codependent and unhealthfully entangled with others. On numerous occasions, I’ve put my physical and mental health in harm’s way. But not today. Not anymore. Why? Because I’ve learned to establish boundaries.

“Creating healthy boundaries is an essential skill to balancing your needs while building productive relationships,” Alex Greenwald of Empower Your Mind Therapy tells Scary Mommy. “For many of us, setting boundaries is a process we aren’t ever taught. We learn that we should go above and beyond in every aspect of our lives. Research tells us that healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care, while poor boundaries can lead to increased stress, lack of energy, codependency, resentment, anger, and burnout.”

Here are six ways to establish healthy boundaries.


In order to create healthy boundaries, you will need to better understand what aspects of your life require boundaries. Do you need to distance yourself from a person? A thing? Work? Knowing how — and, more importantly, what — to prioritize will help you reshape your life.

“If you’re struggling to figure out where your boundaries should be, keep a log of what you do throughout your day for a few days,” Greenwald tells Scary Mommy. “What can be dropped off your plate? Commit to the things you NEED to get done and try to add in rest time for yourself to recharge.”

Ask yourself “Is this my responsibility?”

If you’re a people pleaser like me, you probably believe everything is your responsibility. Eve-ry-thing. From work-related tasks and household chores to others’ thoughts and feelings, the weight of the world falls squarely on your shoulders. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to. You need to change your line of thinking.

“When your schedule is full and a new problem arises, ask yourself, ‘Is it my responsibility to solve this?’” Greenwald says. “If the answer is yes, then take the time to work on it. If not, learn to let others step up and manage without you taking over. Offer advice if you have a spare moment, but don’t take it on for yourself.”

Be assertive.

Once you’ve decided what boundaries you need to set, it’s imperative that you be assertive; your boundaries will only be upheld if you are confident and decisive and create a proverbial wall. Follow through with maintaining those boundaries, and don’t be afraid to be direct with people about where they are. You must be insistent, consistent, and absolute.

Make no mistake: This step is not easy, especially if boundaries are new to you. Instead of jumping into the deep end sans swimmies, start small — such as sending back your meal at a restaurant if it’s not cooked to your liking and/or just saying “no.”

Give yourself permission to “do you” — and be happy.

While life is hectic and most of us have many tasks on our plate, one thing we shouldn’t neglect is ourselves. “Before your schedule fills up, block off time that’s just for you,” Greenwald says. “This gives you the time to check in with yourself without guilt or doubt. It will also help you regroup and prioritize, and remember that boundaries help us preserve energy. By prioritizing well-being now, you are allowing yourself to be a better friend, spouse, coworker later.”

Communicate your needs.

“It’s important to let others know when a boundary is violated,” Greenwald tells Scary Mommy. Personally and professionally. “Say ‘I want to help, but I don’t have space in my schedule for anything else’ or ‘I’d love to see you, but this week has worn me out and I need some time to rest and recharge. Let’s schedule another time to get together.’ Being clear and direct will help others understand the importance of your boundaries.”

When all else fails, delete and ignore.

If you’re having a hard time being assertive with clearly communicating your needs, you may need to take a step back. After all, these are tough tasks and (for some) establishing boundaries takes time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a scapegoat or punching bag in the interim.

“As long as you have tied up loose ends and given family members/friends/ex-partners or whoever it may be closure from any promises you may have made, you no longer owe them anything,” an article on Psychology Today explains. “If you have asserted yourself and made it clear to another person that he or she is not respecting your boundaries, it is okay to ignore correspondence from that point forward. Remind yourself of your own worth, and that no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable or take your self-defined space away from you.”

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