Setting And Enforcing Healthy Boundaries!

We have all seen the signs that read, “No Trespassing—Violators Will Be Prosecuted,” which sends a clear message that if you violate that boundary and cross the line, there will be a consequence. This type of boundary is easy to understand because you can see the sign and the border it protects. Personal boundaries, on the other hand, can be harder to define because the lines are invisible, can change and are unique to each individual.

Personal boundaries, just like the “No Trespassing” sign, define where you end and others begin and are determined by the amount of physical and emotional space you allow between yourself and others. Personal boundaries help you decide what types of communication, behavior and interaction are acceptable.

Types of Personal Boundaries

1. Physical

Physical boundaries provide a barrier between you and an intruding force, like a Band-Aid protects a wound from bacteria.

Physical boundaries include your body, sense of personal space and sexual orientation. These boundaries are expressed through clothing, shelter, noise tolerance, verbal instruction and body language.

An example of physical boundary violation is a close talker. Your immediate and automatic reaction is to step back in order to reset your personal space. By doing this, you send a non-verbal message that when this person stands so close, you feel an invasion of your personal space. If the person continues to move closer, you might verbally protect your boundary by telling him/her to stop crowding you.

Other examples of physical boundary invasions are:
• Inappropriate touching, such as unwanted sexual advances.
• Looking through others’ email, phone, and journal.

2. Emotional

These boundaries protect your sense of self-esteem and ability to separate your feelings from others’. When you have weak emotional boundaries, it’s like getting caught in the midst of a hurricane with no protection. You expose yourself to being greatly affected by others’ words, thoughts and actions, and end up feeling bruised, wounded and battered.

These include beliefs, behaviors, choices, sense of responsibility and your ability to be intimate with others.

An example of an emotional boundary violation in a romantic relationship would be your partner pressuring you to reveal what you talk about with your therapist or trusted friend(s). Your partner can ask, but do you respond by saying “that’s between my therapist/friend and me” (healthy boundary) or do you divulge the details although you would rather not (unhealthy boundary)?

Other examples of emotional boundary invasions are:
• Not knowing how to separate your feelings from your partner’s and allowing his/her mood to dictate your level of happiness or sadness (a.k.a. codependency).
Sacrificing your plans, dreams, and goals in order to please others.
• Not taking responsibility for yourself and blaming others for your problems.

Being in a relationship does not have to mean losing your sense of individuality. It may seem obvious that no one would want his/her boundaries violated and would want to maintain their autonomy.

So why is boundary violation a common issue? Why do we NOT enforce or uphold our boundaries?

1. FEAR of rejection and, ultimately, abandonment.
2. FEAR of confrontation.
4. Lack of solid knowledge, as many of us were not taught how to effectively draw healthy boundaries.

Awareness is the first step in establishing and enforcing your boundaries.

Assess the current state of your boundaries, using the list below:


• Have high self-esteem and self-respect.
• Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing and trusting relationship.
• Protect physical and emotional space from intrusion.
• Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power are shared.
• Be assertive. Confidently and truthfully say “yes” or “no” and be okay when others say “no” to you.
• Separate your needs, thoughts, feelings and desires from others. Recognize that your boundaries and needs are different from others.
• Empower yourself to make healthy choices and take responsibility for yourself.

UNHEALTHY BOUNDARIES are characterized by:

• Sharing too much too soon or, at the other end of the spectrum, closing yourself off and not expressing your need and wants.
• Feeling responsible for others’ happiness.
• Inability to say “no” for fear of rejection or abandonment.
• Weak sense of your own identity. You base how you feel about yourself on how others treat you.
• Disempowerment. You allow others to make decisions for you; consequently, you feel powerless and do not take responsibility for your own life.

Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries

(Modified from the book, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, by Anne Katherine)

• When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, calmly, firmly, respectfully, and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, get angry or apologize for the boundary you are setting.
• You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for clearly and respectfully communicating your boundary. If it upsets the other person, be confident knowing it is not your problem. Some people, especially those accustomed to controlling, abusing or manipulating you, might test you. Plan on it, expect it, but remain firm. Remember, your behavior must match the boundaries you are setting. You cannot successfully establish a clear boundary if you send mixed messages by apologizing.
• At first, you will probably feel selfish, guilty or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and tell yourself you have a right to protect yourself. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety or low self-esteem prevent you from taking care of yourself.
• When you feel anger or resentment, or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, determine what you need to do or say, then communicate assertively.
• Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. It is a process. Set them in your own time frame, not when someone else tells you.
• Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries. Eliminate toxic people from your life—those who want to manipulate, abuse and control you.

Establishing healthy boundaries and enforcing them builds self-worth and confidence—all very sexy qualities.

I hope you take the time this week to put into practice some of the above ideas. Please share any insight, and even struggles, so we can support each other right here.

And, as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love


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Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered companies, celebrities, professional athletes and individuals to Live Fearless and Free. Recently, Terri released her first CD Meditation Transformation. Follow Terri on Twitter @terri_cole.

  • Phil Garcia

    This came at the perfect time. Your blog is sparked some ideas about why my girlfriend and I keep breaking up. I respect her personal boundaries, however in the emotional category I know I am guilty of perhaps getting into her business. 

    I tend to carry her emotions in FEAR of making her ANGRY, so at times I say things like, ” you should allow your coworkers to treat you to lunch”. Instead of being direct and say to her that I approve of her going out with her co- workers .Although the first comment sounds non invasive, here is the truth. All her co-workers are men and perhaps I am testing her to see if she is going out with her male counter parts.

     Truthfully all  I am really trying to tell her that it’s ok if she does, and seriously trying to avoid her having to lie about it. I most likely have made her perceive the comment as an invasion of her emotional boundaries. 

    Sure enough, she became extremely angry and I don’t do well with anger as it shuts me down. Lots to think about now.  I am going to get into action and be much more direct with my wishes and not dance around them. Thank you so much. Love and PeacePhil

  • L D Dickerson

    This is genius! Thank you!!

  • BG

    I became frustrated and angry because my art teacher spoke to me like a child, almost in a mean tone about a simple dislike she had of my painting.  I expect teachers to know how to express themselves correctly, but I guess she doesn’t.  I butted heads with her on her weakness which I guess was dumb, but I don’t let anyone push me around so it is easy for me to set boundaries.  She went ballistic and arguemenative   in front of everyone in class.   Now I have to deal with her all the time or drop out.   I did not spend money to please this teacher, I spent money to learn lessons about painting, only to find out she isn’t a good teacher at all, she has poor communication skills.  I have come to the conclusion she may not be the teacher for me.   What should I do, how can I grow from this, or help the situation?

  • doctorabigail

    beautifully written/spoken, terri!

    i am happy to say my boundaries are pretty clearly defined; however, i acknowledge that it was definitely a long process.  the “process” i went through in learning and defining my personal boundaries makes me want to share this comment & helpful tip.

    it is important to always remind ourselves where we stand at any particular moment.   we are dynamic beings, and our ideas/philosophies on life are informed by each new experience we have.  i believe it would help us to incorporate REGULAR PERIODS OF REASSESSMENT into our lives as it relates our personal boundaries. 

    thanks for posting this.  you rocked my world 🙂

    •  Thanks Doc!
      Loving REGULAR PERIODS OF REASSESSMENT! Great point-we change and grow and then time to reassess! Thank you for being here with us <3

  • legalgal69

    I have met the most kindest man and we’ve been together for almost a year. Due to my past experiences and being hurt by the only 2 men i’ve ever loved (I’m 43) and both of whom I was married to, I have trust issues and I’ve tried extremely hard to get past these issues. However, though I’m much better, I still picked up my boyfriends cell phone and looked at a text he sent a female friend of his and I truly never expected to find what I did…..Him telling this female friend that he needed to plan a trip (without me), just him and her, that they would have alot better time. He said that he would be a camp fire for them and etc….This has devestated me internally. I felt as if I had my heart ripped out. I thought I’d found Mr. Right. My partner in life. How does one get past this or will they ever? Trust is a must in a relationship. Now he’s getting ready to go to Missouri on a Hunting trip. How do I trust that he’s actually going there?

    •  legalgal69-
      Here is YOUR chance to do something different. Confess. Tell him the truth that you saw the text and ask him what it’s about. You will never get passed this if you don’t break the pattern of lack of trust and the best way is to rack some transparency. He will be pissed that you trampled his boundary by snooping but do not let him off the hook because of that. Yes you were wrong to look and you should say just that but that does not change what you saw. Do it now mama-time waits for no man or woman and it is better to know what his true intentions are than waste your life living a lie. And if you have not had any-give yourself the gift of therapy STAT! I am cheering you on <3

      • legalgal69

        Thanks Terri………I did tell him what I did. I even stressed the fact that I had done what I swore I’d never do. I even went as far as to somewhat make an excuse for what he said to this friend. I told him……” heck, there is probably texts in my phone that you would find inappropriate”. Are there probably was at the time. I love this man, he is a partner in life. We are a team. He is kind, gentle, loving, etc. I have never been treated the way he treats me. But there is still that part of me that feels that men are men and they will do the unthinkable whenever and whereever.  Anyway……..The only response that I got out of me telling him what I saw was an apology for his part in this ordeal which had started one week prior to me finding the text. He called me at work and said “******* is going out in the boat with us on Saturday”.. (the friend)  I was hurt at that moment because he didn’t ask me if it was ok for her to go. He simply told me she was going. This was the second time he had done this. So we went on the boat trip and I was not the normal happy me because I had been offended by his action of telling me and not asking if she could do. I stewed and he stewed for a week. Then one night, he didn’t come home until late. I caught him in a lie about the time he got home and still today I don’t know where he was. He told me he apologized to her for my actions. This apparantly is what led to the texts. They were friends before we were together but still . This has hurt me and I want to get past it and to forget it. But I keep remembering the several times he has not come home until late late and had been drinking to boot. I’m confused. But I know this man is a genuinely awesome man. If I can’t get past this then I belive I have to suffer yet another heartbreak and let him go because a relationship with no trust is not a relationship. I welcome all comments and suggestions.

        • Sivitri

          Reading this second response, I have to say made me feel sad and a little angry because it really seems that you are blind to the essence of this man. A “genuinely awesome man” as you put it, would not treat you this way if he respected you and took your feelings into account. It seems he only cares about his own interests. When you are in a true, loving, respectful partnership and are living with that person and sharing such intimate space it is essential to have good communication and your boundaries and feelings acknowledged and taken into account. Don’t make excuses for him. He is obviously wounded and does not know how to be truly committed and truthful. The kindness and gentleness you perceive doesn’t seem rooted in true understanding of what those attributes mean but rather an external mask in order to be seen.

          The fact that he told you this other woman was coming on the boat trip and didn’t ask you, is not ok, especially after you approached him about the text. It is selfish and controlling and testy. When I read that, it took me back to my previous relationship with a man who had 3 children who would occasionally spend time with us. After getting back from a solo trip I took, he suddenly TOLD me that when his kids were coming for the summer, his friends wife and their kids were also coming for a month. He didn’t ask me, he told me this was happening. In a house with only 2 bedrooms we were going to have 3 weeks of chaos. This was after numerous other incidents of inviting people to stay in our home without asking me and after requesting that I would like to be asked not told. He made me feel like I was inflexible and closed and did not honor my feelings at all. That was the beginning of the end for me and I am telling you this because men like this only want you to fit into a mold they design for you. They push boundaries and test you and make you feel crazy and uptight. Perhaps in time he could change and acknowledge how you feel and become more aware of how his behavior is affecting you but it might take a whole lot of work and patience on your part as well as a lot of therapy on his part.

          You deserve to be honored, loved and respected by your partner. It took me months and months to unravel all the damage from this selfish, passive aggressive relationship. My advice would be to get out of this situation and take care of yourself and examine why you have attracted 3 men into your life who can’t be trusted and take steps to create a partnership that includes all the things you want to feel and affirm to yourself that you deserve this because you do! I know it’s hard to leave but have the courage to do so for yourself so that you can begin to create what you really want. THIS CLEARLY IS NOT IT! he is using you as a doormat. 

          I know this is very cut an dry but I hope that it helps.

          • a.

            Right on!!! “They push boundaries and test you and make you feel crazy and uptight.” This is so true! I’ve experienced this in other types relationships. Certain types of people will push you to see just how much you will take from them. No matter how many times you try to convey your feelings, they nod, then turn right back around to do the same thing, as if to train you. I agree with Sivitri, you must truly evaluate your definition of “kind”. 

  • Hopeful

    Terri…this post really hit home for me. I am learning ever so slowly to set boundaries, something I have had a problem with for a very long time.  I am newly divorced and left an extremely toxic relationship. It feels foreign setting new boundaries, yet it also feels extremely liberating. I had to cut off all communication with my ex, as he is an extreme narcissist. My self esteem is gradually coming back and I realize now how important it is to take care of yourself first. Love your posts!

    • Michelle

      I’m in the same boat as you. I’m slowly coming to realize that it does not matter what he things about my boundaries, and honestly if he gets upset about a boundary then I’ve clearly done something right for myself. It is quite liberating as I’ve started dating a new man and am getting off on the right foot with boundaries right away and feel respected for it.

  • Yesgirl

    Terri I can’t thank you enough, it’s like everything I went through with my best friend now makes sense. I just thought setting boundaries was selfish and felt guilty for doing so. But I feel such joy and freedom that God is confirming to me that healthy boundaries are good. Thank you Jesus! And thank you Teri.

  • Lori

    My ex-husband keeps popping up at his convenience, paying child support as he feels he is able and then ceases all communication with me AND with my children. I filed non-support charges against him last year, and he is “taking it out on the children” by being absent in their lives. He lives 2 miles from us, but made no connection with the kids on there first day of school, promises to call but doesn’t etc. He is a highly skilled surgeon, no addictions or diagnosed psychological issues…he’s just mean.
    I really struggle how to deal. I feel like if I “bend over backward”, then the kids will at least have a relationship with their dad. The more boundaries I set, the angrier he gets and the more distance he maintains from my kids. He definitely uses the kids as a lever to make me react.
    It makes me so sad, and sometimes guilty.