8 Must-do Steps for Healthy Boundary Setting


Before reading this list have a look at my post on the story of Jennifer. It is a story (based on a true one) that has many of the features of manipulation in friendship and some of the feelings that go with unhealthy boundaries. These are boundaries that do not respect a person’s emotional, mental or psychological needs. Any relationship can have unhealthy boundaries (parent, child, spouse, sibling, boss, teacher, co-worker, client) and many relationships have aspects that are lacking in respect.

Once you have defined what it is that is unhealthy about a relationship you have then its time to follow through my checklist. The ‘must-do steps’ should be followed in order as they represent healthy psychological development. It is tempting to rush in to ‘tell them what I think’ but this approach does not allow for the way that all relationships are a combination of both people’s thoughts, feelings and actions. In order to change your relationships, you need to first change yourself. That is what this list of ‘must-do steps’ will enable you to do:

  1. Talk to a safe person about your experiences with personal boundaries.

    This would ideally be a trained professional. Investing in your own wellbeing is a smart idea, have a budget for therapy and get a great therapist who you trust. If the budget is tight then choose a wise and loving friend to talk to. Explain in as much detail as you can your thoughts and feelings and the actions of the other person. Be aware of making judgements and becoming closed off in your thinking. It's all too easy to become defensive when you feel under attack. Stay open-minded and seek great advice. Sometimes these situations get cleared up very easily with good communication.

  2. Uncover hidden low self-worth or self-sabotage.

    If you are speaking with a professional then this will be part of their remit. The nature of the human psyche is that the hidden narratives hold a lot of sway over our behaviour. For example, if a man finds himself having a series of relationships with women who cheat on him then he might start to ask the question “Is there something in my psyche that attracts unfaithful partners?”. My advice would be don’t wait until you have a series of messy relationships start asking the questions at the first car-crash. “Is my self-regard high?”, “Do I expect others to manipulate me?”, “Am I avoiding conflict as a form of self-protection?”, “Do I find it difficult to protect my boundaries because I am sabotaging my own growth?”. Discuss your findings with your safe person from step #1.

  3. Get in touch with your desires.

    One of the ways that unhealthy relationships are sustained is by the feeling that the connection is meeting a need. The more important the other person is to you the more disrespect you will tolerate in the relationship. My third ‘must-do’ is the route to getting your needs met in healthy ways. It is to get in touch with your desires. It sounds simple to know what you want and need but in my experience, it is far from simple. Give yourself permission to express your desires and then try some things that might help you get what you need. For example: “I really need an escape so I’m going to watch some movies I love. I am also going to go to a film night and meet people who like movies too. If I hate it I don’t have to go again”.

  4. Set aside time and money to meet your needs in new ways.

    The movie vs film night example is one way that you could set aside time and money to try new things to meet your needs. But be prepared to try a few things and evaluate as you go. Not everything needs to cost money; walking, running, calling a friend, reading or doing volunteering work are a time investment only. Only you can make the decisions to prioritise yourself and get your needs met. Don’t delay this really important feature of healthy living.

  5. Develop habits of self-love.

    Having got in touch with your desires, tried some new ways of meeting your needs and found some things that light you up its time to make it habitual. Create structures and routines around self-care and doing what you love. It takes 21 days of repetition to form a new habit and a further 9 days to break the old ones. So in a month, you could have new ways of being if you can master the habit. This is where structured approaches to tasks and schedules come in. Joining a group does the structure for you but how about setting reminders in your phone, downloading an app, accountability relationships and repeat appointments in your calendar. If you are serious about moving on from the destructive relationships then do the work to organise your life to better meet your needs.

  6. Adopt mantras.

    Mantras are crafted phrases that you say out loud regularly. You can make them suit any situation in your life. Write some for the healthy boundaries that you want to put in and then watch yourself say the words out loud in front of a mirror. This works like self-hypnosis. You are giving yourself verbal, visual and experiential clues for the new boundaries you want to have. You are rehearsing your new healthy life. Here are some boundary specific mantras that I have written: “I no longer need to avoid conflict”, “I know my own needs and desires and I am good at meeting them”, “I refuse to be controlled by anyone else”, “I walk away from disrespectful situations”, “I am good at saying ‘no’ and sticking to it”. Write your own. You can make them say anything you want.

  7. Visualise setting boundaries.

    Now go one step further and run through in your mind situations where you set and maintain healthy boundaries. Imagine every detail of the situation and especially focus on the feelings you would feel. The situation may never happen but you are reinforcing your learning through visualisation and your brain will adopt these experiences in the same way as real ones. Repeat the visualisations as often as you can and ‘get involved’ in them as much as possible. You can even begin to feel the emotions of healthy relationships before you actually have them through the power of your visual brain.

  8. Take steps to take back control.

    Only after you have completed steps 1-7 should you try and enter into dialogue with the problem person. You need to become the person who has the healthy boundaries before you can hope to set or maintain them. This can take time so be patient. If you need to have a conversation about the relationship then take control over how, when and where it happens. It’s OK to say I’m not ready to talk if you are feeling pressure to explain your change in behaviour. Always be prepared to walk away if the conversation becomes disrespectful. Although it can be tempting to ‘get it sorted’ ask yourself “do I need to explain anything”. The most powerful communication you have is your actions so let them do the talking for you.


Real change is possible even in the most complicated and long-term relationships. If you decide that you are going to change yourself then the situation will always change as a result. You have the power to live a healthy life. My 8 must-do steps will help you begin.

One final thing, it is important to be informed about the help that is available to you especially if the problem relationship is with a spouse or child. ITV’s this morning produced a helpful list of all the national helplines for getting advice on relationships. If you are afraid for your own safety or that of a child always call the police non-emergency number 101.


Images credit: Pexel.com