Personal Boundaries Teach People How to Treat You

Written by on October 16, 2014 in Self-Awareness, Self-Care

Personal Boundaries


The most important thing for you to embrace about boundaries is that they are not about punishing or controlling others, they are meant to be used as guidelines for what is – and is not – acceptable in your life. They help you to maintain balance and protect your body, mind, emotions and time from harmful or unwelcome demands of others.

When you lack strong personal boundaries you risk undermining your integrity and self-respect as well as the respect of those around you. Not surprisingly you also tend to attract controlling, disrespectful, or needy people into your life.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You say yes even when you really want to say no.
  • You feel guilty when you do say no.
  • You act against your core values to keep the peace.
  • You don’t stand up for yourself when someone mistreats you.
  • You give too much just to be liked or included.
  • You allow people to say or do things to you that make you uncomfortable.
  • You expect that the people closest to you will somehow just know without you saying anything when they’ve done something to upset or offend you.

Unfortunately, some people avoid setting boundaries in the misguided belief that always making themselves available is the way to win the love and respect of others. The problem is that every act of compliance, self-denial, or neediness chips away at the respect others have for them, in effect undermining the very things they want most.

If you are accustomed to accommodating and being compliant, the process of setting and implementing boundaries may feel threatening and unnatural at first, but if you stick with it then you’ll find it gets much easier in time and there’s no question the reward is well worth the effort!

Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries

It Begins with You

The process of setting personal boundaries begins with you first accepting that you not only deserve to have boundaries but they are a critical element of self-care. Secondly, you must accept that you have the right to set them. This may sound strange to you, but I have known people who genuinely didn’t realize this was an option!

In fact, you not only have the right, but the responsibility to determine how you allow others to treat you. Your boundaries act as filters permitting what is acceptable in your life and what is not.

There will naturally be occasions when someone genuinely needs your help and asks with respect, and after all, there’s a big difference between firm and inflexible. Accept that it will take time, some experimenting and probably a few missteps, but you will learn how to make the distinction between an acceptable request and one that puts you in jeopardy of backsliding.

Identify Your Needs

Identifying where you need more space, self-respect, energy or personal power is the next step and will require you to invest some time to become more self-aware. Begin by identifying patterns of repeated situations or behavior that leave you feeling resentful, energy drained, battling an upset stomach, or depressed.

As you identify specific situations, I want you to write them down in a notebook, better yet a personal journal. Don’t worry about your writing ability, this exercise is meant to help you clarify what is really going on. The reason this is important is that more often than we realize something (or someone) becomes a hot button for us, but it isn’t really the issue at all.

For example, you may be focusing a lot of negative energy on your sister for her habit of dropping her kids off for you to watch without ever asking or calling in advance. The real issue isn’t your sister, it’s that you don’t feel respected and are under the mistaken belief that just because she is a relative you are trapped and can’t say no. Well, here’s the good news … you are absolutely allowed to set boundaries with family!

Define Your Boundaries

If you’re new to setting boundaries I recommend you start small. Even if you have one area that is making you crazy, it’s better to focus on a behavior or situation that is non-threatening so that you can become comfortable with the process of identifying and clearly communicating your needs.

The mistake many people make when they first begin setting long-overdue boundaries is coming from a place of frustration and resentment, and this is a sure recipe for failure and unnecessary conflict. Creating strong, sustainable boundaries has everything to do with your attitude going in, so it’s much better to approach this process with compassion for others as well as yourself.

Using your notebook or journal, define the boundary you want to work with along with what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior – in other words, this is where you decide where you draw the line.

Communicating Your Boundaries

When it’s time to implement your new boundary let your experience and comfort level guide you. Rather than making a formal declaration out of the blue, one way to go about this is to take advantage of a typical scenario of the unacceptable behavior.

Let’s go back to the sister. Since you’ve accommodated her behavior in the past, it probably isn’t a good idea to suddenly slam the door in her face the next time she drops by. But what you can do is get her kids settled, and then ask for a couple of minutes of her time before she leaves. Then explain that you always enjoy seeing her and the kids (even if you don’t, grin and bear it at this point), but you really need her help by asking in advance if you’re going to be available to watch the kids. Use your own words, be kind, but don’t feel you have to explain yourself or apologize.

Some people will try to make you feel guilty in order to manipulate you into doing something they want, but if you trust in yourself and believe that you are doing the right thing, then you’ll see that the problem is theirs, not yours. ~Author Unknown

Overcome Guilt and Resistance

Be prepared, you’ll have to be ready to make tough choices to change your lifestyle and guilt is the most common obstacle when it comes to taking care of yourself. Just keep reminding yourself why you established your boundaries in the first place.

There may also be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved – which of course will add to your guilt. Most people will get used to your new boundaries over time, but some may fall away as a result of your new outlook and demand for respect. That really is okay because you don’t want people who compromise your values, integrity and self-respect in your life anyway.

Trust and Believe in Yourself

No one knows better what you need, want, and value than you. Don’t let anyone else make the decisions for you. Healthy boundaries make it possible for you to respect your strengths, abilities, and individuality as well as those of others. Set clear and decisive limits so that others will respect them, and then be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them.

Be Patient

Accept that this change will not happen overnight. Disengaging from the emotions and beliefs that led you to accept weak boundaries requires patience and practice.

The good news is that as you define and implement personal boundaries in your life you will begin to feel more empowered and self-confident because you are communicating your self-worth to those around you. The more you practice holding fast to your boundaries, the more love, respect, and support you will find in your life.


Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Unknown says:

    Yeah I seem to have struggled with this my entire life to survive. As a young boy, I grew up in several group homes and foster homes. I wanted people just to like me because I was always alone and I chose to try and please everyone and avoid all conflict to do so. Trying to please someone has gotten me into a marriage that I don’t want to be in and I feel trapped :-/

    • Thank you for taking the time to share. For better or worse, boundaries are an issue many people struggle with. I wanted to let you know that my next post (Monday) is on stress and relationships and include a more in-depth look at boundaries. It may help to provide you with some additional insights.

  2. Giulio Bortolozzo

    A lot of practical suggestions for people to work with. Einstein said if you can’t explain something in simple terms you don’t know your subject. You know your subject well and you communicate with your audience with ‘effective simplicity.’ Thank you 🙂

  3. Mimi says:

    I really need to print this article and keep it in my back pocket!! I am a people pleaser by nature and as I get older I realize this does not work. So many people take advantage of us people pleasers. It’s so hard for me to set boundaries with friends or new neighbors because I feel so guilty and feel like I need to be nice and say yes all the time. I’m a work in progress. However, reading articles like this gives me such hope and lets me know I’m not the only one struggling with setting boundaries and that I can become the person I’m meant to be. Thanks for the great article, it was beautifully written and really made me feel so much better after reading it!

    • Welcome Mimi! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and for letting me know the article gave you encouragement. You are so right about boundaries being an issue many people struggle with. In fact you may be interested to know that I’m currently working on an online courage on boundaries and subscribers to ERL will have an opportunity to preview the course for free in June so that may be something you might like to consider.

  4. Carol says:

    Loved this! I think that setting and sticking to your boundaries actually empowers you and you will seem to others to have more strength and confidence thereby empowering you more.
    Carol recently posted…Why You Need To Get Your Website Up Now!My Profile

  5. Sue Kearney

    Marquita, right on, just what I needed to see tonight. I’m sitting with having said No today to a suggestion that I invite another person to my birthday dinner. I said No. I felt guilty, I felt I should say Yes. It is uncomfortable to take this stand for myself; I’m a highly trained people pleaser!

    But I’m sticking with it. I’m at capacity for the number of people I want to have in my home, and that’s just how it is.

    You’re right, this stuff takes lots of patience. Thanks for reminding me.

    Sue Kearney recently posted…What do you choose to remember?My Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Welcome back Sue, thanks so much for sharing your story – and good for you for taking a stand. Guilt can be a pest, but taking care of yourself is not being selfish. Oh, and hope you have a great birthday dinner! 🙂

  6. Hi Marquita,

    This is such a wonderful post. As I read, I kept thinking that it is so terrible that many young people are not taught this or learn this early in life.

    As for me, it wasn’t until I was older that I learned this lesson and you are right, things are much better when you respect yourself and don’t allow mistreatment from anyone.

    Have a great weekend.
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted…20 Questions – When Looking For a WordPress ThemeMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      So glad you enjoyed the article Monna. I also learned this lesson later in life, but somehow I think rather than being such a bad thing it provides a foundation that enables us to value the importance of boundaries that much more. Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  7. This is such a powerful post Marty.Every single one of those brilliant points above can have a huge impact if turned around to the positive angle you have shared.
    Boundaries are SOOO important to teaching others how to treat us.
    There are several I have a tendency towards, but now I am working on myself to align me with myself… and self awareness IS where it starts.
    This is such valuable information Marty,and you have written this beautifully, as usual…
    Thank you
    Jacs Henderson recently posted…Turbo-Charge Your Business With A Facebook Fanpage FocusMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      So glad you found the article of value Jacs! I think it’s human nature that we all experience boundary issues from time to time but as you rightfully point out, awareness is the key. I can hardly wait to jump over and read your article on Facebook Fanpages – I seriously need some turbo charging there. 🙂

  8. Lamisha

    Such great advice. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are treating ourselves a certain way until we see we are allowing others to treat us poorly.

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