the basics of boundaries

When you have healthy boundaries, you make choices that are right for you rather than basing them on pressure or guilt from others. This may include turning people down for things that do not work for your schedule or do not align with your values. It may even include things you just do not want to do.  

Boundaries also clarify how you allow yourself to be treated. You can not control anyone else's behavior, so boundaries focus on how you respond. It may sound like, “Please speak respectfully; I will walk away from you if you yell at me.” 

Author Prentis Hemphill says, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” They are where you honor yourself by considering your needs. In return, this protects your peace and guards your relationships from resentment. 

Let’s look at ways to embrace boundaries in our lives.


Making Commitments

Saying ‘yes’ to something means saying ‘no’ to something else. We have limited resources (financially, physically, and even emotionally). So, think about what you want to give before committing.

Healthy boundaries that lower stress may look like…

  • limiting the time you spend with certain people or activities
  • negotiating a more balanced approach to responsibilities at home
  • saying ‘no’ to a request for help
  • refusing to loan items or money
  • turning down a promotion
  • resigning from clubs or positions
  • not signing up for extra requests


Communicating Expectations

It can seem like a boundary to tell someone how you want to be treated, but that is just a request. Boundaries may include a request but also state what your response will be if the request is not honored. 

Healthy boundaries in relationships may include telling someone that you will… 

  • not continue a conversation if they swear
  • leave the house if they are drinking excessively
  • not lie for them if they miss work or school
  • take some time away from the relationship if they try to manipulate you
  • not spend time with them if they lie about you


Practical Notes

Many people think focusing on our needs and desires is selfish. Our culture and homes often teach us to put other people's needs ahead of our own. While there are times we may choose to do that, it should not be your automatic response. You do not need to justify yourself when saying ‘no.’ There may be a specific reason or you might just not want to do something. Either way is legitimate. Staying home to relax is as good a reason to decline a request as a work obligation.

Boundaries are only as effective as your actions. Letting someone guilt you into changing your mind will only encourage them to pressure you in the future. When people treat you poorly, following through with what you said you would do may encourage them to change their treatment of you in the future. You cannot change the other person, but you can change your responses to them in ways that will support your well-being. 


It can be scary to implement a new boundary; that can be a normal part of growth. However, the slightest concern that communicating a boundary could put you in danger means something is very wrong. Resources are available to help you assess the situation, look at some of your options, and create a plan to get out safely. If you need help locating these resources, please reach out to me. 

Even without safety concerns, sometimes the only way to create a healthy boundary is to go no contact. You may choose to do this temporarily or permanently. It is a legitimate option for you to get out of toxic relationships even when others do not understand.



Establishing healthy boundaries may rock the boat at first, but they will strengthen healthy relationships in the long run. Let me know what boundaries look like in your life; perhaps your insights will clarify ways that I can grow in this area too.

Dr. Jamie