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How to set boundaries in all areas of your life — and stick to them

Experts share tips on how to draw the line in a relationship, at work and beyond.

Although we're often told to think outside the lines, we should take the opposite approach and create boundaries in our personal lives.

“Boundaries can be thought of as setting invisible walls that keep us safe from others,” Lin Sternlicht, LMHC, therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, tells “We define what we will and what we won’t tolerate in our own personal space and lives and communicate it clearly to others when appropriate. It is then up to others to honor and respect that space."

And while friends and family are quick to tell you about the importance of setting boundaries, it's often easier said than done. Deborah Krevalin, LPC, LMHC, a psychotherapist, says there are many benefits to doing so. “The fact of the matter is that setting boundaries is not just a good idea, it’s a crucial ingredient to feel connected to others and to live a happy and healthy life,” she says, adding that they're necessary when you feel smothered by a friend, your romantic partner isn't meeting your needs or work is consuming your life.

With some thoughtful approaches and a commitment to setting the course — and drawing those proverbial lines in the sand — it is possible to create and maintain healthy boundaries in your life. Ahead, experts break down how to do just that. 

Prioritize yourself

Krevalin and other therapists emphasize prioritizing your wants and needs over those of others. “It’s very easy to get sucked into being the ‘giver.’ We are showered with praise and accolades for our selflessness and while that feels good for a while, it gets old fast. We end up meeting everyone’s needs, except our own,” she tells

To that point, Aimee Evnin, LMFT, a sex and relationship coach, underscores that boundaries are all about protecting your own peace. “Boundaries are used as a guide for yourself to protect yourself on how you will respond to different situations,” she says, making it clear that boundaries are not intended to control others or change someone else’s behavior.

“Boundaries allow us to connect to our value systems and stand up for our needs,” Evnin adds.

Write down your boundaries 

Put your boundaries in writing to zoom in on what you value the most in your various relationships and reaffirm them in the process. Evnin recommends journaling to get the wheels turning: “Think about times in your life where boundaries were crossed. In a relationship or in a work situation, how did it feel when this happened? How did it violate your core values?”

Once you see themes emerge, create a boundary to address that behavior. Then if someone crosses the boundary, have a plan set in place for how you'd respond — and, if necessary, remove yourself from the situation entirely.

Practice self-awareness 

Self-awareness is key when it comes to knowing and defining your boundaries. “This can be done by examining present and past experiences and acknowledging where, when, and with whom you may have felt discomfort, frustration, resentment, a drain in energy, or other such unwanted feelings," Sternlicht tells

Once you establish your boundaries, “you can take action towards sharing them with others when needed.” 

Don’t overshare 

Charese L. Josie, LCSW, owner and founder of CJ Counseling and Consulting Services, tells her clients that people have to earn the right to hear your story.

“Oftentimes, we overshare due to a lack of boundaries or a need for connection,” she tells If you opt to share personal information with someone before you know if they're worthy of your trust, then "it can impact your decision to share in the future, and increase the likelihood of feeling lonely and isolated.”  

Be assertive 

People — even the ones your closest to — can't read your mind. That's why "assertive communication" is crucial, according to Sternlicht.  “Assertive communication involves effectively, clearly, and respectfully communicating your thoughts, wants, and needs with others."

Let’s say your roommate doesn’t clean the dishes in the sink. Rather than let the situation fester and behave rudely towards them without telling them why you’re upset, find a moment to calmly and clearly explain why their behavior bothers you and what you believe can be done to improve the situation. 

Krevalin offers up another example: “If you feel that your boss is taking advantage of your excellent work ethic, you need better boundaries. Be brave. Chat with your employer to clarify expectations, theirs, and yours."

Be clear, concise and consistent

Along with being assertive, effectively conveying your boundaries matters, too. “Say what you need by being clear without a lot of filler words or fluff between your ‘yes' or 'no,’” Josie says. Keep it short and sweet because Josie says "too much information implies that there is room for negotiation or to guilt-trip you into changing your mind.”

Instead of saying something like “I’m unable to help you on Sunday because I typically go to church and I have to get ready and then we go out to eat after church," Josie recommends the following: “I’m unable to assist on that day.” Over time, people will learn that you mean what you say without room for interpretation. 

Say what you are able to do 

We often rightfully associate boundaries with saying “no,” but you can reframe these negative statements and still reap the benefits. “Speaking in the affirmative is just as powerful as saying ‘no,’” Josie says. “It’s empowering to say what you’re able to do as opposed to focusing on what you cannot do. This is also a healthy way to maintain relationships and foster healthy communication as the person will hear and feel your desire to want to assist in a way that is helpful to them.”

It's all about how you frame it. If someone is asking you to help them move, don't simply agree to avoid hurting their feelings if you know you don't have the bandwidth to do so. Instead, Josie recommends the following response: “I can assist you with locating moving companies or other people who may be able to assist you.”  

Don’t answer questions that were never asked 

You muddy the waters when you give people more information than they need, thus blurring boundaries and and forging an unhealthy dynamic between the people in your life.

“Answering questions that were never asked can lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding and oversharing. We unconsciously start to over-explain things and defend ourselves when a statement is made,” Josie says.

An example: Your boss saying, "I didn't' see you earlier" may feel like a question, but it's actually a statement. This is a great opportunity to get clarification without feeling as if you need to defend yourself," Josie adds.

Edit toxic people out of your life  

Toxic relationships don’t serve anyone.

“Setting boundaries with loved ones and people we care about can be scary because it may mean hurting them or ruining our relationships with them,” Sternlicht says.

Her advice? Remember that setting boundaries is the greatest act of self-love. “Although it may be scary, we have to be willing to let go of people who do not respect us enough to respect our boundaries.”

Respect other people’s boundaries 

It’s the golden rule, folks.

If you want people to respect your boundaries, then you have to respect theirs. “We have to also remember that other people have the right to implement boundaries to protect their mental well-being,” Josie says. “Rather than take it personally, we should approach these situations with curiosity to learn more about what is pleasing to the person and relationship, and then make an informed decision if that aligns with your boundaries.”