Establishing healthy boundaries

As parents, we understand how important boundaries are for the protection of our children. “Don’t run in the street! Stay on the sidewalk…. Stay where I can see you…. Don’t talk to strangers!” Setting healthy boundaries with other adults can be a whole lot trickier to navigate. 

Our boundaries serve as an internal alarm system that alerts us to an infringement of our physical, emotional, or psychological safe zones. Healthy boundaries help us limit excessive stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and protect our mental health. Research demonstrates unclear boundaries between work and home life result in increased family conflict, reduced physical health, and a reduced level of reported happiness. 

Learning how to set (and maintain) boundaries not only creates psychological safety, it also leads to healthier, happier relationships at work and in our personal lives. Whether it’s your mother-in-law showing up unannounced or your boss texting you on a Sunday evening, when boundaries are not clearly communicated and held, there is sure to be some collateral damage. 

Types of Boundaries

There are 5 different types of boundaries, and most of us handle each of the differently:

  1. Physical boundaries: This refers to your body, your personal space, and your privacy. 
  2. Sexual boundaries: This can relate to your comfort level and expectations regarding physical touch and verbal comments related to intimacy. 
  3. Intellectual boundaries: These boundaries concern your ideas, opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. 
  4. Emotional boundaries: This refers to your openness to sharing your feelings.
  5. Financial boundaries: This is your comfort level when it comes to spending and saving.  

Wondering if you are struggling to set boundaries in any of these areas? It might look like:

  • Having trouble saying “no”
  • Fear of disappointing others, people pleasing behavior
  • Oversharing personal information
  • Feeling taken advantage of
  • Not feeling heard when you express your feelings

Sound familiar? 

We all have that little alarm system that goes off in our brains – alerting us to our discomfort. When you don’t hold a boundary, you are dismissing that alarm and betraying yourself. Identifying the violation will require some self-reflection to understand where this feeling is coming from and what boundary feels violated. Have you set a boundary at all? 

Steps to Establishing Clear Boundaries

  1. Be intentional. If you haven’t set many boundaries with family members and co-workers, this may feel foreign and overwhelming. You may fear the anticipated repercussions of reclaiming your safety. That’s ok. Start anyway. 
  2. Be consistent. You must be the gatekeeper of your own boundaries, no one can do it for you. Every time you let someone cross the line, you are sending a formal invitation for them to do it again. If your boundaries don’t matter to you, they won’t matter to anyone else either. 
  3. Be aware. Social media has empowered so much sharing (and oversharing!) of personal information. More than 50% of people report fears of family and friends sharing private information online and nearly 40% admit to having regrets about oversharing themselves. Mind your digital boundaries too!
  4. Be communicative. Your boundaries are only as effective as your ability to communicate them. If someone consistently violates your boundaries, have you clearly communicated them? Maybe you need to be more direct. 
  5. Be respectful of other people’s boundaries. This seems obvious, but if you want your boundaries respected, it’s a two-way street. If you’re unsure, just ask. 

Respect Your Own Boundaries

Sometimes, we make progress in drawing that line in the sand, only to drop the rope and step over it ourselves! For example, when you try to reclaim your work-life balance by setting an out of office reply for messages received after hours – but continue responding to those messages – you are breaking your own rules. In turn, you devalue the boundary and now it’s open season on after hours communication. When you set new rules to guard your boundary, it’s equally important that you respect your own rules. 

Give Yourself Some Grace

Lastly, setting boundaries is a process. Whether you have many strict boundaries in place or hardly any at all, developing a habit of identifying and communicating your boundaries will be an iterative process. You will be learning about yourself and what behaviors you find acceptable and unacceptable. At the same time, you will determine how others will interact with you by what you allow. You won’t get it right all the time and the boundaries won’t be established overnight, but creating awareness and setting your intention will certainly get you headed in the right direction. 

Let’s Review

  • Boundaries are absolutely crucial to maintaining your psychological safety. 
  • Clear boundaries are protective measures to preserve your mental health and overall happiness. 
  • Establishing boundaries might feel uncomfortable at first, but your relationships will actually improve when boundaries are respected. 
  • Clearly communicating your boundaries is an important step in protecting them. 
  • You are the only one who can ensure your boundaries are respected. 
  • Be careful to respect your own boundaries and the boundaries of others. 



Dr. Tess is an Organizational Development Expert who specializes in cultivating emotional intelligence, improving communication, and building organizational leadership skills. She offers private executive coaching and large-scale seminars for individuals and organizations experiencing growth and transition. Her clients include fortune 500 leaders seeking support in their personal and professional development. She is also a Professor of Business & Communication in Southern California and enjoys working with the next generation of business leaders. Dr. Tess is a wife and mother of 4 children. Her eldest child was adopted through foster care and she is a passionate advocate for children in the foster system.


Dr. Tess Breen


Phone: 714-200-3004



Instagram: @drtessbreen

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