top of page

Healthy Boundary Setting – Selfish OR Self-Care?

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

The most compassionate, generous & empathetic people are the most boundaried!

Do you ever struggle with…..

  • Saying No

  • Overcommitting and then feeling resentful for overcommitting

  • Finding your voice when someone has said something rude or inappropriate

  • Feeling disappointed (or let down) when people are constantly late

  • Being a people pleaser

  • Setting boundaries with family

If you’ve struggled with any of the above, it’s likely that a boundary (or boundaries) has been overstepped!

Over the last couple of years, boundary setting has played an increasingly prominent role in the lives of many of my clients (and in my life too!). Yes, the covid-19 pandemic may have had something to do with it (as globally many of us have had to adapt to new ways of living and working that we were not used to), many have been stretched to their limits (their boundaries) and some may even have had boundaries stepped on, stepped over and consciously or unconsciously disrespected or even violated.

What are (healthy) personal boundaries?

A healthy personal (or professional) boundary, just like a perimeter fence, is a self-imposed limit that you set for yourself. Just as you wouldn’t want anyone trespassing on your property without permission, similarly, healthy personal boundaries refer to what is OK and what is not ok for you. If you like, the term boundary is a metaphor for what is acceptable and not acceptable to you. Metaphorically, they are about your safety and security – what behaviour, what actions, what words, what people contribute to making you feel safe and secure.

Personal boundaries create space or separation between you and someone else. They are limits and expectations that we create for ourselves and others. They help both parties understand how to behave—what behaviour is acceptable and what won’t be tolerated. If you feel unsafe or on edge with someone, there’s probably a lack of clear or consistent boundaries.

Whilst many people think boundaries are STOP signs, creating separation and alienation, telling people what not to do, boundaries are actually welcome signs e.g., welcome and please take off your shoes. Boundary setting is not about controlling people or cutting them out of your life (although in some cases this may be necessary if there is a real violation in boundaries) it’s more about building real strong connection & respect.

It may seem counterintuitive that space, distance and limits are required to build strong connections and healthy relationships with yourself and others, however, it is both necessary and important to avoid building too much codependency.* By setting boundaries we can feel safer, more connected and more present in our relationships.

*Psychology today

Types of Boundaries

There are multiple different types of boundaries. Here is just a sample of what different boundaries help to protect.

  • Time; help to protect how time is spent. “If you’re going to be late, please let me know”

  • Physical: help to protect your personal space and body. E.g., “I’m not a big hugger, I’m more into handshakes”

  • Intellectual help to protect what is discussed. “I respect your opinion but please don’t impose / force yours onto me”

  • Emotional: help to protect your thoughts and feelings “I’m not comfortable in having this conversation with you today”

  • Financial/material: help to protect your finances and assets “I’m ok to lend you my car for a couple of hours tomorrow, but I’m not able to lend you my car for the weekend”

  • Sexual “I don’t like that; can we try something different”

What happens if we don’t create or have healthy boundaries?

When we don’t set healthy boundaries, we can risk being constantly at the mercy of others.

Lack of boundaries, lack of assertiveness around boundaries and not standing up for ourselves, what we need and what we value, will, over-time, wear you down.

When we don’t set healthy boundaries for ourselves, we allow others to tell us how to think, act, and feel. It also means we may tend to spend our time and energy doing what others want us to do, rather than choosing what we want and need to do.

The bottom line is that when we don’t set healthy boundaries for ourselves, we are essentially compromising our own physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

How do you know when a personal or professional boundary has been compromised or overstepped?

If you ever feel that something is ‘off’, it’s a possible sign that a boundary has been overstepped.

Your body is an INCREDIBLE tool / sensor for letting you know when something feels off. A quick bit of neuroscience: It’s our bodies, trying to make sense of what is going on in the outside world, that let our brains know that something on the outside world may be threatening or unsafe. Our bodies (our physical minds) will tell us when something doesn’t feel quite right. When someone acts, says, or does something that oversteps one of your boundaries, you will likely feel it in the body – anything from tightness in the stomach, sweaty palms, racing heart, clenched jaw – or many more feelings or sensations.

Other warming signs that your boundaries are being overstepped or crossed may include: discomfort, resentment, disappointment, stress, anxiety, guilt, fear, if you start justifying someone’s behaviour, doubting your decision making, taking the blame when things go wrong (outside of taking personal responsibility)

Next time you feel that a boundary has been overstepped, bring attention / awareness to what is happening in your body. You may be surprised by what you discover!

Why do we struggle with boundary setting?

No-one chooses deliberately to live with discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, and fear – yet, many of us struggle to set these boundaries. Here are some of the main reasons we struggle:

1. We have a deep-set belief that setting boundaries (putting ourselves first) is selfish

Many of us, for much of our lives, have gone about business and life with our own ideas about what selfishness ‘looks like’. We’ve been told (by parents, educators, employers, and society) what’s right and wrong, what’s selfish and what’s not. These ideas and concepts have created a deep-set of beliefs within us (often very unconscious) that have been taking shape since our infancy. They have become part of our default (brain) wiring. They have become our truth. Therefore, to act against what we were raised or educated to think, believe and do feels a) very difficult and b) very uncomfortable.

2. We feel like we are being ‘difficult or mean’ when we set boundaries

This leads on from point number 1. The truth is most of the time we are not being difficult or mean (And only you will know your motive if you are being deliberately difficult or mean). You may see healthy boundary setting as very black or white (all or nothing). Either you put everyone else first or you put you first and the latter feels far too selfish – so you default in putting others first.

3. We feel guilty when we set boundaries

And we find ourselves constantly apologising when actually you have done nothing wrong.

4. We don’t know how (or we don’t feel comfortable) in saying No

It’s usually easier to say yes (and also more socially acceptable). To avoid discomfort, we avoid saying no.

5. We fear the (often perceived) implications of setting a boundary – disappointing or hurting others

We are fearful of disappointing or of hurting someone when we set a boundary. NEWS ALERT: We cannot control how someone reacts when we set a boundary. They may be disappointed or hurt, but the reality of life is that we can’t go through life without risk being disappointed or hurt or without risking disappointing or hurting someone else.

6. We don’t know how to best communicate a boundary.

Because boundary setting may feel confrontational or difficult, many of us avoid the discomfort. We therefore go down the path of least resistance (by not clearly communicating the boundary) and ultimately compromising ourselves.

7. We want to be liked by everyone / we are people pleasers

We don’t want to rock the boat so we continuously put other people’s needs ahead of our own.

If any (or all) of the above for you, you are definitely not alone. As a recovering people pleaser and someone who struggled to set healthy boundaries for many years, I can tell you that all of the above have been applicable to me over the course of my life. Today, I’m a work in progress and I use all the tools and strategies that I share with my clients to live a healthier, more loving and boundaried life.

An Act of Self-Care

Setting healthy boundaries in our personal and professional lives not only helps you to manage your time, your energy, and your own and others’ expectations but it will also help you feel better about yourself. Most importantly it helps you to put your needs on an equal playing field with everyone else’s needs. (As opposed to putting everyone else’s needs above your own).

When you place your needs on an equal playing field with others, you can make more conscious decisions about what needs you put first and you show people what’s important to you. It’s neither rude nor inappropriate. It’s taking care of yourself. It’s respecting yourself. You’re saying “this is me, and this is what’s important to me”. You’re recognising what you need and you may even ask for it. If you don’t take care of yourself properly, it’s much harder to take care of those we love around us.

Healthy boundaries are central to your identity and how you feel about yourself. Without them it’s hard to distinguish where you end and where someone else begins.

Healthy boundaries can help you to manage stress, create healthy long-lasting friendships and relationships, build confidence, assertiveness and help you look after all aspects of your health: physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and bring a sense of inner peace and ease.

Tips for Healthy Boundary Setting (Personal & Professional)

Know what’s important to you (your values) and what your priorities are

Let people know where your priorities are and what’s important to you (your values). This way you are clear in managing expectations with yourself and others of where your focus needs to be and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Give yourself permission to set healthy boundaries.

It may feel tough at first, but start small. If you don’t give yourself permission, who’s going to do it for you?

Be specific / communicate clearly.

If something is not working for you, it’s important to let others know either what’s important to you or what’s not working. Humans are (mostly) intelligent beings, but they are not mind-readers.

Watch for your own expectations

Be wary of your expectations. Asking for what you want or need doesn’t always guarantee the outcome.

Notice if you take things personally

If you get a bad reaction when you set a boundary it usually says more about the other person than about you. You are NOT responsible for how the other responds or feels.

Avoid over explaining **

(See below)

Take responsibility

Realize that it is your responsibility to take care of yourself. Your needs are your responsibility. This is part of being a fully functional, mature and emotionally balanced adult.

Learn to say "No"

As humans, we only have capacity for so much. Saying no can be a powerful statement and No, is one of the most powerful words in the human language, yet can be one of the hardest. Note: be conscious of how you say no (you don’t have to be an a**hole about it!)

“Thanks for asking. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help you out on this occasion”

Ask for what you want or need without apology

It’s not wrong or a crime to ask for what you want or need. Avoid pre-facing any request with a ‘sorry’ and notice if you’re preface or follow any ‘No’ with a sorry. Remember, this is about letting people know what’s important to you (and that’s not a selfish act). If you’ve done nothing wrong, an apology is rarely needed.

Take time for yourself (personally and professionally)

Your personal health and wellbeing are as important to you and your family as it is to the organisation you work for. Take your holiday, take time out, exercise, don’t be afraid to ask for time off and manage expectations of how you communicate whilst you’re off.

Manage notifications (technology)

Be aware of how technology and being constantly ‘contactable’ or ‘online’ can be a real drain on your energy/time/wellbeing. Are you enabling / encouraging others to always be contactable or are you always making yourself available? Be mindful of the culture and behaviour that the 'always on' messaging creates.

If you need to, reframe what it means to set a boundary.

Having healthy boundaries doesn't mean you stop caring about other people's needs. It just means you start treating your own needs as equal.

Once we discover the truth about setting boundaries and how important it actually is for self-care, healthy relationships and personal wellbeing it’s time to start implementing them!

Implementing (New) Healthier Boundaries

Just because you start implementing new and healthy boundaries for yourself, it does not mean that others are going to like or even accept them. Implementing healthier boundaries will most likely mean a change in behaviour. Equally, when someone sets a boundary with you, letting you know what’s appropriate / inappropriate and what they will or will not tolerate, you may not like it!

It may feel like a collision of instincts and values at first which can feel very bumpy and uncomfortable, but it's worthwhile persevering through the discomfort in service of your health, your relationships, your wellbeing and your peace-of-mind.


When starting to set (new) healthier boundaries the following that can impact your self-esteem and self-confidence when setting boundaries

Over Explaining / Justifying / People Pleasing

When you set a boundary and say no, (and you’re not used to saying no) it may feel uncomfortable. You may notice that you go into people pleasing mode, and you start to over explain or justify something.

This can have a negative impact on your confidence. It tends to happen because you believe that your own health is not a good enough reason to disappoint other people. This can chip away at your self-confidence because it reconfirms your belief that other people need to buy into those reasons for them to be valid.'

If someone is making you feel bad because you are setting a healthy boundary, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong for setting that boundary.

Setting boundaries is not necessarily about getting other people to like your decisions, but it’s about making decisions for yourself based on your best interests - and accepting that other people have a right not to like your decisions.

Final Thoughts on Boundary Setting

Setting healthy boundaries can help on so many levels.

  • They can help with creating better connection, communication and managing expectations.

  • They can help people to speak up and express opinion without fear of ridicule or embarrassment.

  • They are an act of self-care and support your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, mitigating risks to yourself as well as personal and professional burnout.

Like anything else, creating healthy boundaries for yourself takes practice. Just like we go to a gym to help our body conditioning, we’re not going to get the results we want after going to only one gym session.

Setting healthy boundaries takes practice and can feel very personally challenging at first, but I promise you that the more you do it, the easier it will become.

According to doctor Brene Brown, the most compassionate and generous and empathetic people, are also the most boundaried!

Consider this for just a moment, and if you want to hear what she has to say about it, click here to watch this 5 minutes YouTube video.

I’m passionate about the work on boundaries. This is deep work that I’ve done (and I do) with myself constantly and that I support my clients with. It’s life changing AND transformational.

If this blog speaks to you and you’d like to find out more, get in touch.

If you want to lead a more boundaried AND compassionate AND generous life, get in touch.

I have openings for 3 people the opportunity for a one-off 2hr discounted ‘deep dive’ into boundary setting. Sign up by end 15 October 2022 and leverage a 20% discount.

68 views0 comments


bottom of page