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Healthy Personal Boundaries


You may have heard the term “Boundary” used often in recent years though what is specifically meant is not always clearly understood. Simply stated, a boundary defines how you are willing to be treated by someone else or what you will or will not allow yourself or someone else to do.

Boundary Examples

Work/Life balance – Amanda sets a boundary to not answer her work phone or text messages after 6pm.

Relationship peace and children’s well-being – Mel sets a boundary that he will not discuss his ex-wife with his family especially in front of the children.

Physical safety – Elissa sets a boundary with her son that she will not allow him to drive after dark.

Emotional wellness – Thomas sets a boundary that he will not interact with his father if he speaks to him in demeaning and overly critical or judgmental ways.


Set Boundaries for Stability and Safety

Each of these boundaries exist to protect something important to the individual. Boundaries are often established to maintain values such as family time, peace within relationships, the safety or self-image of others, physical safety, and emotional health.

Whatever you consider to be important to your well-being and growth is worth protecting. Setting appropriate boundaries to govern your own choices or to limit the possibility of others to cause harm is essential. For example, if you wish to increase the value you have placed on your health, you may set boundaries for yourself with respect to sleep, diet and exercise.

Strong boundaries can also assist in the accomplishment of personal objectives. If I want to retire early, I might set a boundary to save 20% of all that I earn in a retirement account. This would require me to live with less now to achieve my early retirement objective in the future. If I want to author a book, I might set a boundary that I do not watch television until I have written a minimum number of words each day.


Boundary Enforcement

Setting boundaries is a key step in moving forward in the best way possible but boundaries will be meaningless if not enforced. Enforcing boundaries, you have set for others requires you to follow through with what you have stated. Failure to enforce a stated boundary leads to even greater infractions and encroachment. If we do not enforce the boundary, we are implying that it means nothing and need not be followed.


When setting a boundary for someone, it is important to state the action to be taken if it is violated. In the example above, Thomas states that he will not continue an interaction with his father if his father speaks to him in demeaning and overly critical or judgmental ways. If his father violates this boundary, Thomas must remove himself from the interaction. To state the consequence, Elissa might let her son know that if he drives after dark, he will forfeit his keys for a specific amount of time. If Mel’s family insists on saying negative things about his ex-wife in front of his children, he may impose a consequence that his family will not be able to see his children except in certain circumstances in which he is present.


Setting consequences on boundary violations for others is one thing but enforcing boundaries you set for yourself can be even more challenging. When you struggle with this, think again about why you set the boundary in the first place. Remembering the motivation that caused you to set the boundary is an effective way to reinforce your commitment. Considering and reminding yourself of the desired benefits is an excellent way to help yourself stick to your self-commitments.


Consistency is key. Setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries designed to achieve specific goals consistently over time will enable you to increase self-efficacy, personal security, and well-being.


The counselors of Gentle Empathy would be happy to help you identify your values, set, and enforce appropriate boundaries and work in myriad other ways to support the achievement of your goals. To get started – call 770-609-9164 or email danfeldman@gentle-empathy.com.