Set Better Boundaries for Emotional Safety

“No" is a complete sentence.” 
- Ann Lamott

Boundaries are the basis of our ability to stay safe physically and emotionally.  Boundary setting includes a number of things ranging from understanding our limits to practicing assertiveness. What's most important is that the outcome of not holding boundaries is not good. This includes physical and emotional harm, low self worth, depression and anxiety.  Inability to hold boundaries can also lead to dangerous behaviors such as substance abuse and self harm.

We first learn about boundaries as children in our nuclear family.   Aside from our families we also have unique ways of relating to others.  Over time we learn ways that keep us safe and capable of avoiding pain.  Sometimes our best attempts are not the best.  Therapy is a good place to explore our boundaries.  You and your therapist can learn areas of your life where boundaries are easily held and supportive as well as those that may need strengthened.  

Another aspect to understanding boundaries is the impact of trauma on our ability to protect ourselves.  According to Friedman and Boumil, any type of abuse is a boundary invasion. Families with poor communication styles reinforce confusion around when to be close and when to protect. Children from abusive homes have a tremendous amount of confusion around whether or not their body and thoughts are their own. (1)

Some barriers to boundary setting include: 

  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of confrontation
  • Guilt
  • Not being taught healthy boundaries
  • Safety Concerns

If you are dealing with someone who is physically dangerous or threatening to you, it may not be safe to attempt to set explicit boundaries with them. If you are in this situation, it can be helpful to work with a counselor, therapist or advocate to create a safety plan and boundary setting may be a part of this. (2)

Trauma impacts our ability to make decisions to keep us safe.  Finding a trauma focused therapist to help you slow down and stay with overwhelming and confusing thoughts can allow for the healing you need to start recognizing the possibility of boundary violations before they occur. 

Tips For Setting Better Boundaries

1. Learn to define your needs.  By clearly understanding your needs, you will be able to begin defining them for those around you. 

2. Cultivate the ability to trust yourself and your decisions.  In order to have healthy boundaries we must stop questioning ourselves. 

3. Cultivate decisiveness. As your confidence grows you will feel more empowered by good decisions as well as more forgiving of the bad. 

4. Learn that you are not responsible for the emotions of others.  Outside of not harming another person you have no responsibility for the feelings of those around you.  When we set healthy boundaries we realize we are only responsible for our emotions. 

5. Learn to value reciprocal relationships.  You deserve respect in every interaction. 


Resources for learning healthy boundaries

Where to Draw The Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day

Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Take Action today

What are some simple steps you can take today to understand your boundaries? 



1. Betrayal of Trust: Sex and Power in Professional Relationships Joel Friedman Praeger, Jan 1, 1995 - Family & Relationships - 142 pages

2. How to Create Healthy Boundaries