How to Set Boundaries with Toxic People in 4 Steps
If you've clicked on this blog, then you're likely exhausted trying to appease an unhealthy individual in your life. Maybe they're a family member, significant other or friend. Trouble is, you don't know what a boundary is, how to set it, and where to start! That's where this article can help!
Step 1: Identify a Personal Boundary
What is a boundary? A personal boundary includes limits and/or rules we set for ourselves in relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are also comfortable opening up to others and forming close bonds those they trust.
A person who keeps others at a distance (emotionally, physically, or otherwise) might have "rigid" boundaries. Alternatively, someone who tends to get too involved with others has "porous" boundaries.
Step 2: Defining Rigid, Porous, and Healthy Boundaries
Below we've included a table curtesy of Therapistaid.com (reference PDF, 2016). This table summarizes each boundary type with examples for each category.
Avoids intimacy and close relationships
Overshares personal information
Values own opinion
Unlikely to ask for help
Difficulty saying "no" to the request of others
Doesn't compromise values for others
Has few close relationships
Over-involved with other's problems
Shares personal information in an appropriate way (does not over or under share)
Very protective of personal information
Dependent on the opinions of others
Knows personal wants and needs, and can communicate them
May seem detached, even with romantic partners
Accepting of abuse or disrespect
Accepting when others say "no" to them
Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejection
Fears rejection if they do not comply with others
Most individuals have a combination of all boundary types. For instance you may have healthy boundaries in your relationship, but porous boundaries at work, and a mix of others with family. Boundary appropriateness depends on setting, situation, and cultural factors.
Step 3: Consider Your Boundary Type
Now that we've looked at boundary styles, it's time to consider the type of boundary you want to set. Some of the types include: physical boundaries, intellectual boundaries, emotional boundaries, sexual boundaries, material boundaries, and time boundaries. Healthy expressions of these boundaries include identifying limits in what you share, not allowing dismissal of your ideas, feeling mutual respect, and so on.
Step 4: Be Direct and Set Up Consequences for Boundary Breaches
Now that you've completed steps 1-3 it's time to set them! One of the best examples I tend to give my clients about implementing boundaries is to envision you have a castle and around that castle, a fence with a gate. The gate allows people in and out whenever you feel comfortable. If you have rigid boundaries your gate might always be closed. With porous boundaries, you may open the gate to others even if you don't want to, or find that others barge in without your permission. With healthy boundaries you're firm in keeping the gate closed when you don't want someone in and let others in who respect your personal space and limits.
Boundary setting doesn't have to mean an individual is forever barred from your castle. Setting boundaries with friends or loved ones can be temporary or permanent based on the situation and severity of a boundary breach. To set healthy boundaries you must be firm in what you need from the other person and follow through on consequences for breaches. Consequences can include leaving or exiting a conversation after you've established a time limit, or denying to financially support someone after a certain date or time. That loved one or friend may not readily accept your boundary, but to avoid the 'porous' category, it'll be important to stick to your gut and keep your castle gate closed! *References for blog attributed to "what are personal boundaries?" worksheet by Therapistaid.com
If you or someone you know is struggling with setting boundaries, reach out to us at
970-644-2393 or submit a private inquiry through our message portal below!