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What Are Boundaries and How Do They Work?


by Dr. Jackie Black
Part 2 in a 4-part series on boundaries in relationships


If your life is filled with more of what you don’t want and not enough of what you do want, it’s time to set your boundaries.

Boundaries define your sense of self (who you are as an individual).

Setting boundaries makes others feel safe around you and allows you to feel safe in your environment. It is a way to exhibit self-respect, thereby increasing the respect shown to you by others.


  1. Help other people know how to treat you.
  2. Define your sense of self.
  3. Delineate how much you have to give of time, money and energy.
  4. Are dividing lines between you and everyone else that represent both physical and emotional limits others may not violate.
  5. Separate your needs, wants, desires, thoughts and feelings from others.

Setting and maintaining your boundaries, and honoring the boundaries of others are among the most challenging and confusing behaviors in relationships.

Boundaries are innate and natural to everyone. You have your own internal indicator when a boundary is being violated. A boundary, when crossed by others, will create intense feelings of anger, hurt or outrage inside you.

You set boundaries to protect two different parts of Self:

  • Boundaries for your Outside Self protect your body and control distance and touch.
  • Boundaries for your Inside Self act as filters or blocks to protect your thinking, feeling and behavior.

Boundaries that protect your Outside Self can be violated by actions like:

    • Touching or standing too close to you without your expressed permission.
    • Intruding on your privacy; for instance, walking into the bathroom or bedroom without knocking, or getting into your personal possessions without permission.

Boundaries that protect your Inside Self can be violated by actions like:

  • Yelling, screaming, name-calling ridiculing, lying, patronizing and sarcasm.
  • Efforts to control what you say, how you say it; where you go or what you do.
  • Unrealistic expectations of you or expectations that are not aligned with your vision and values.
  • Demands that you agree with the point of view or ways to accomplish goals of another person as the only (right) way or (right) choice.

Take some time and ask yourself two important questions:

  1. What boundaries do I need to set?
  2. What boundaries are others asking me to honor?

The more aware you become about the boundaries you need to set and the boundaries others are asking you to honor, the more choices you can make that will be self-affirming and self-esteeming!

Remember, only YOU can make it happen!

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