Posted by: silverliningsblog | February 25, 2016

A pushover no more: How to set healthy boundaries

292Many women don’t know how to set healthy boundaries.

They let themselves be pushed around by their bosses, co-workers, partners, kids. They don’t stand up for themselves when someone speaks rudely to them. They give and give and never ask for what they need. They try so hard to be good and kind that they get taken advantage of by others.

I know this profile well. I used to be a pushover myself.

I grew up in a home where I was to be a “good girl” and not bother anyone. My mother was overwhelmed with four young kids, so I didn’t dare to ask for anything. And when people would bully me, I would “turn the other cheek” because I thought that was the right thing to do.

We learn about boundaries as children. Some of us are taught how to assert ourselves and create healthy boundaries by parents who are themselves assertive. But many of us are shown unhealthy examples due to abuse, neglect, or simply a lack of parenting skills.

And yet, being able to set boundaries is key to functioning well in society as healthy adult. If we don’t tell others what our limits are, how will they know? And if they don’t know, how can we expect them to treat us the way we want to be treated?

“We learn about our boundaries by the way we are treated as children. Then we teach others where our boundaries are by the way we let them treat us. Most people will respect our boundaries if we indicate where they are. With some people, however, we must actively protect them.” —Anne Katherine, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin

What is a boundary?

So what is a boundary, exactly?

A boundary is a limit that defines you as separate from others. It is a line you create that you don’t want others to cross. It expresses what you will and won’t accept in your relationships, and teaches others how you expect to be treated.

The five main types of boundaries are:

  1. Physical – Determining what happens to your body, including how much “personal space” you require.
  2. Sexual – Deciding how and when you want to be touched intimately, and who you want to be sexual with.
  3. Emotional – Requiring respect for how you feel and what your emotional needs are, including setting limits on how people speak to and about you.
  4. Relational – Communicating to others how you want to interact with them, including how much closeness/distance you require and how much time alone you need.
  5. Spiritual – Creating energetic boundaries to protect yourself from unwanted spiritual interference.

In an ideal world, we would clearly express what our limits are to others, and maintain those limits. And we would respect the boundaries of others too.

“A clean, clear boundary preserves your individuality, your youness. You are an individual, set apart, different, unique. Your history, experiences, personality, interests, dislikes, preferences, perceptions, values, priorities, skills—this unique combination defines you as separate from others.” —Anne Katherine, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin

Boundaries that are too weak/open

SeagullsIf our boundaries are too weak (or open), we become overly permissive. We allow people to do things we don’t want, and ignore our own body’s signals that something feels wrong.

Examples of weak boundaries include:

  • Doing something you really don’t want to do.
  • Spending time with someone you don’t want to.
  • Letting someone touch you when you don’t want them to.
  • Ignoring your needs.
  • Working too hard and burning out.
  • Not resting or eating when you need to.
  • Not getting enough sleep or exercise.
  • Not doing something you really want to do.
  • Not allowing yourself enough alone time or leisure time.
  • Pretending you don’t feel how you feel.
  • Pretending to agree when you don’t.

When our boundaries are too weak, we constantly feel like we’re being taken advantage of. We become exhausted and depleted and moody. We feel like we’ve betrayed ourselves. We may even turn to substances (drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sugar) or compulsive activities (eating, shopping, TV, texting, sex) to numb our feelings of unhappiness.

Boundaries that are too firm/closed

032On the other hand, if our boundaries are too firm, we become closed off. We become reclusive, distant, untrusting. We establish brick walls around our hearts that no one can possibly get through.

Examples of overly firm boundaries include:

  • Avoiding social situations.
  • Saying no to everyone.
  • Not returning calls, texts, emails.
  • Not sharing feelings even with people you know and trust.
  • Not staying in a romantic relationship for long.
  • Avoiding sex and affection.
  • Not showing concern for others’ thoughts, needs, and desires.
  • Not being willing to consider new ideas.

When our boundaries are too firm, people can’t connect with us emotionally. It hampers all our relationships and causes us to feel very separate and alone.

Boundaries that just right

011Healthy boundaries are strong but flexible. In other words, we strengthen or soften our boundaries with different people, allowing people we trust to get closer while keeping strangers at a distance until trust is established.

Healthy boundaries include the freedom to say yes, the right to say no, and the permission to change our mind. They also include respect for feelings and opinions, and the acceptance of differences. And they include the freedom to freely express our uniqueness (and the allowance for others to do the same).

Examples of healthy boundaries include:

  • Saying no to things you don’t want to do.
  • Telling someone to stop if you don’t like what they are doing or saying.
  • Taking care of your own needs.
  • Stopping to rest and eat when you need to.
  • Ensuring you get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Making it a priority to do things you really want to do.
  • Spending time with people you want to spend time with.
  • Ensuring you have enough alone time and leisure time.
  • Saying how you truly feel.
  • Expressing your opinions respectfully.
  • Asking for what you need.

“So what’s the goal of a person who wants to be healthy? To form boundaries that have some flexibility and some definite limits, boundaries that move appropriately in response to situations—out for strangers, in for intimates. Boundaries should be distinct enough to preserve our individuality yet open enough to admit new ideas and perspectives. They should be firm enough to keep our values and priorities clear, open enough to communicate our priorities to the right people, yet closed enough to withstand assault from the thoughtless and the mean.” —Anne Katherine, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin

How to set boundaries

So what does it look like to set a boundary?

While there are different types of boundaries, the process looks something like this:

  1. Decide what your boundary is. For example, you may decide you won’t sleep with a guy until you’ve known him for at least a month and decided you like him.
  2. Communicate this to the person involved. So if you go on a first date and the guy makes a pass, let him know firmly but politely that you need to get to know him better before you can be intimate.
  3. Reinforce the boundary (if needed). Many people will respect your boundary right away. Some will continue to push. In this example, if the guy keeps pushing you to have sex, firmly say no and create some physical distance.
  4. Enforce a consequence (if needed). If the person continues to persist, you need to decide what course of action feels right to you. In the case of someone you’re newly dating, it would probably make sense to simply stop seeing him. In the case of a child who’s not respecting your need to have a few minutes alone, you would need a different approach (for example, giving them a time-out or taking away a privilege).
  5. Take a breather. Setting and maintaining boundaries can feel stressful, especially if it’s new to you or if you have aggressive people in your life. Congratulate yourself for doing what is right for you, and give yourself some breathing room to recover emotionally.

From limited to limitless

I used to have very poor boundaries.

For example, I used to let everyone be my friend. I was like a cute happy puppy dog, smiling up at everyone waiting to be petted. Because I have always had a firm belief in people’s goodness, I naively failed to look for and be aware of ulterior motives. I got hurt often, and was always surprised when someone was mean. My boundaries were way too open.

Gradually I began to realize that I needed to have firmer boundaries when I first met people, and not openly share my heart with everyone. That doesn’t mean I put a wall around my heart…it just means that I now wait until I get to know and trust someone before I let them get close.

Learning to create and maintain healthy boundaries is an iterative process. It won’t happen overnight, but every time you set and enforce a limit with someone, you will become more confident in yourself and take back control of your own life.

This week, try deciding how much time you need to yourself. Then take that time, without apologizing or justifying, no matter who wants what from you!

While one of the key benefits of better boundaries is more authentic relationships with others, the number one benefit is a better relationship with yourself. Once you know you mean what you say and can stand up for yourself when you need to, you will feel empowered to do anything you want to, knowing you can handle the situations and people you encounter.

So ironically, setting limits with others allows you to become limitless in who you can be and what you can accomplish!

Do you have a story to share about a time you set a limit with someone? What does having boundaries mean to you? I would love to hear your ideas! Please share your thoughts below, or email me at


Karen Strang AllenKaren Strang Allen helps single women who are tired of unhealthy relationships change their patterns, design a sensational single life, and become a magnet for the man of their dreams! She is the author of Free to be me: Create a life you love from the inside out! and international bestselling co-author of Unwavering Strength Volume 2. Learn more about Karen and check out her free empowering resources at

Contact Karen and ask for a free “Discover your patterns” strategy session today!


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  2. […] Be assertive. The first step is to be assertive and establish a healthy boundary. Calmly tell the other person that their tone of voice/approach hurts you. Tell them you want to […]

  3. […] A pushover no more: How to set healthy boundaries […]

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