How to Create and Maintain Healthy Boundaries


How to Create and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are an essential ingredient for cultivating healthy relationships. The negative effects of poor boundaries are easily identifiable and include resentment, anger, frustration and burn-out. For those who are in recovery, boundaries are critical in helping to establish and maintain sobriety. Learn why setting boundaries are important and tips for creating your own.

Why are boundaries important?

Like guardrails on a mountain pass, boundaries help us to navigate our relationships safely by helping us define what behaviors are acceptable versus those that are not. Rather than viewing boundaries as limitations, it might be more helpful to define them in terms of what you need in order to be the best version of yourself. Setting healthy boundaries are associated with numerous positive benefits, including:

Greater autonomy. Individuals who create and maintain boundaries usually experience a greater sense of agency over their lives. Boundaries take the guesswork out of deciding how you should spend your emotional energy, which gives you the freedom to invest in what is most important to you.
Improved mental health. Developing boundaries will help reduce frustration, anger, and resentment, in addition to protecting against burn-out. Healthy boundaries can help you conserve your emotional energy and are one of the key ingredients to good mental health.
Healthier relationships. Sharing what you need requires vulnerability. Being open and transparent with your friends and family invites them to do the same. Repeated over time, trust is built, and relationships will deepen and grow.

Tips for setting effective boundaries

While working with a mental health professional is the best way to develop healthy boundaries, there are some general guidelines you can follow to get started on your own. If you have trouble identifying or enforcing your boundaries, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a trained counselor or therapist.


Identify what your personal boundaries are. A set of boundaries that might work for one individual, may be too restrictive (or loose) for another. Boundaries are also dynamic – changing as we grow and mature. A good place to start is by naming those things that are important to you and your mental health. What situations make you feel uncomfortable? Lying to cover for a co-worker or a friend who only contacts you when they need something? For those recovering from substance abuse, identifying boundaries that will support your sobriety is part of the treatment process.


Set expectations. While it may be uncomfortable, sharing your boundaries with others is important. Your friends and family cannot read your mind and expecting them to do so is unfair and a recipe for misunderstanding and frustration. Communicating clearly what is important to you not only eliminates guesswork and helps deepen relationships, but it also identifies who is worth your emotional energy. Hint: it isn’t the individuals who violate your boundaries.


Learn to be comfortable saying no. Knowing how to respond when a boundary has been violated can be a difficult skill to learn – especially for those who are people-pleasers. Not enforcing your boundaries communicates a lack of respect for yourself and sets the stage for future confrontations. When your boundaries are tested, respond simply but clearly. Depending on the situation, saying no is sufficient; however, it is also okay to reiterate your boundaries. “I” language works best: “I am uncomfortable with ________ because I need ________.” Short and simple often gets the job done.


Evaluate your relationships. Once you have established and consistently enforced your boundaries, you may need to rethink your relationships. Limiting how accessible you are to friends or family members who repeatedly violate your boundaries, while difficult, is a necessary step to maintaining your mental health. For those in recovery, ending relationships that jeopardize your sobriety is essential. Your therapist can help you identify which relationships are unhealthy and help you develop a strategy for how to end them.

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