Setting Boundaries: Start Simple with These Tips


By Beth Pfitzenmaier

Setting boundaries often gets a bad reputation.  

We set limits with ourselves and others all the time. For example, we may set a limit with ourselves about how we spend our money or free time. Or, we may set limits with others about how we spend our time together or how we speak to each other.  

Sometimes it’s easier to set boundaries and other times it can be uncomfortable; so why is it so difficult? 

Setting boundaries is so challenging because it asks us to be confident and assertive.  

Start with simple boundaries. 

It can be helpful to start with smaller or simple boundaries. As you gain confidence, you can work your way up to the ones that are more painful, difficult or uncomfortable.  

Smaller boundaries are ones that are tied to things that are less personal, not close to the heart and not concerned with matters relating to safety.  

3 Examples of Setting Simple Boundaries:

The following are examples that demonstrate what setting simple boundaries may look like:

  1. Saying no: “I’m really in need of some alone time. I would love to hang out with you, but today just isn’t a good day for me.”
  2. Setting boundaries for yourself, such as “I will not work more than 40 hours a week,” or “I will not watch more than 1 hour of TV a day.”
  3. Stating a preference, such as “I’d prefer to stay home tonight instead of going out.”

When you change your behaviors, it asks the folks around you to change as well; often there can be resistance or pushback.

Assertive Communication 

When you are setting and upholding limits, it’s important to be clear, consistent, loving and firm. This is what assertive communication looks like.

If the other person is receptive, it’s a great idea to have conversations with them about why you are making these changes or setting these limits. Sometimes conversations like these can reduce confusion or resistance and help things move along more smoothly. 

If you work at setting boundaries and limits and the other person refuses to change or their behaviors become more hurtful or destructive, please know that it is perfectly acceptable for you to love them from a distance. Sometimes it takes people a long time to realize that they need to make changes and sometimes people never come to that realization.  

We only have control over our own behaviors and as much as we try, we are unable to control the behaviors of others. In order to keep from feeling powerless, make sure you are focusing on what you have control over by taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep, have fun, do things to relax, and rely on your support network.  

Setting boundaries is especially important for those living in and through mental health or substance use struggles. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to SouthLight.  

Beth Pfitzenmaier

Beth Pfitzenmaier

I value authenticity, courage, growth, and connection. I am the Director of Clinical Training at SouthLight and use my values on a daily basis as I work alongside others to ensure we are providing the best care possible. I recently completed yoga teacher training and am now a certified yoga teacher. I look forward to being able to more fully incorporate yoga into my work with the people I serve.