Steps to Empowerment: Setting Appropriate Boundaries

By |2013-10-27T23:34:51-07:00October 27th, 2013|Therapy & Change|0 Comments

For many people the belief that they are powerless to change their life is an illusion or mistaken belief that is embedded deep in their mind, it is largely unconscious, and it governs the way they live.

Feeling out of control of your body, your mind and your emotions causes anxiety and fear. The fear is for our own safety, physical, spiritual, sexual, and emotional.

Becoming aware of your personal boundaries and setting appropriate limits is one very important way to take your lost power back.

Setting appropriate boundaries is also an act of self-protection and ultimately an act of SELF-CARE. Nurturing and caring for yourself sounds like an easy task to accomplish however we have many competing tasks to take care of and self-care often becomes an after-thought.

Questions to consider

Have you felt, at times and in some situations, that life controls you, you do not control life? What happens when you feel angry or uncomfortable with someone? Have you said yes when you really want to say no? Are you finding that you are doing something you do not wish to do? Or have you found yourself avoiding or isolating from others?

Generally when these things happen someone has been disrespectful of your personal boundaries, you have not asserted your boundaries and/or someone has assumed you are agreeable to something when you are really not.

Boundaries that need changing:


  • · Telling more than you feel comfortable with later
  • · Talking at an intimate level on a first meeting
  • · Fear of talking at all because you say too much


  • · Trusting too quickly or in anyone who reaches out
  • · Becoming preoccupied with someone
  • · Adapting your behavior and values to please others


  • · Being sexual when you did not want to
  • · Being sexual for someone else, not your self


  • · Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
  • · Not noticing when someone displays poor boundaries


  • · Accepting food, gifts, touch etc. that you do not want
  • · Touching a person without asking
  • · Lack of assertiveness and limit setting

Personal Power

  • · Letting others direct your life, make your choices, and determine your identity


  • · Believing others can anticipate your needs
  • · Expecting others to fulfill your needs automatically
  • · Falling apart so someone will take care of you.

This list is a little daunting because we can all probably see ourselves doing one or more of the above. The keys are really awareness and choice. Once we become aware of our boundaries and that we can set limits around them then we can take our power back from these and other situations.

What are boundaries and how are they created and maintained?

Boundaries are invisible lines that are set around your intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual space. They can be very subtle or not, rigid, firm but flexible or porous or nonexistent. There are also generational and intergenerational boundaries, family boundaries, and cultural boundaries.

Boundaries are modeled in childhood by parents and significant others and are affected by trauma and abuse. Even with healthy, flexible, but firm boundaries an incident can occur that will essentially shatter certain boundaries. An accident, a trauma, or an experience with someone who does not respect boundaries (usually because they have not learned healthy boundaries) crosses personal boundaries and makes the person vulnerable to further boundary violations.

Inappropriate Boundaries and Mistaken Beliefs

Boundaries are maintained by mistaken beliefs (many at an unconscious level) about yourself, your gender, and your personal rights. Some people have the mistaken belief that they are entitled to cross others’ boundaries and that they can control what others think, value and do. Others have the mistaken belief that they have no rights that others can do what they will to them and cross intellectual, physical, emotional and sexual boundaries. Most people sit somewhere in between being partly conscious of their boundaries and rights, and aware of their responsibilities.

Why are boundaries so important?

Boundaries make you feel safe and secure. They help you to make good choices about your time and person-hood, and protect you from unwanted advances and intrusions into your personal space.

They also help others understand where you stand on important life issues. Boundaries help you to define where you end and others begin.

The Door

There is an excellent metaphor that helps to illustrate how boundaries work. Imagine a door with a doorknob on the outside that is unlocked. This is like a boundary where anyone can walk in your door, sit themselves down in your living room and go into your fridge. In the extreme, boundaries for some are like a house with no doors or broken doors that won’t shut. These types of boundaries serve to allow intimacy at any cost, intimacy that is not chosen and one’s life, essentially, is not their own.

There is another type of door; one with bars on the windows and the door is locked with no doorknob on the outside. This is a house where no one is let in, where the people keep everyone out but a very select few and then they are frisked and interrogated before they are let in. This type of boundary rarely allows any type of intimacy and can be a position taken when someone has been traumatized. It is usually an act of self protection however it bars even safe people.

Healthy boundaries are like a door that is locked but there is a window or keyhole where the person can decide whether this is a safe person and then if they conclude that they are they can unlock the door and let them in. This type of boundary essentially allows trust and safe people to enter into your life.

Family Boundaries

There are intergenerational boundaries where there is a distinction between parents and grandparents and children. The lines are distinct, parents are parents, children are children, and grandparents are grandparents.

Healthy family boundaries are those that are flexible but firm and they allow new experiences and safe people into the family but keep inappropriate and unsafe experiences and people out of the family.

For families there is a continuum of experience but generally families of abuse and/or drug addiction have porous or rigid boundaries. Strongly religious, cult like or dogmatic families have rigid boundaries and do not allow any experiences into the family and there are strict rules about whom you can talk to or see. Incidentally families where there is abuse tend to be closed to the outside to keep secrets in the family.

Alcoholic families tend to have chaotic patterns where pretty well anything goes and members are not protected from inappropriate behavior whether it is physical, emotional, intellectual or sexual. Children tend to take care of parents and boundaries are blurred in this type of family and it can be intergenerational in nature.

Fast track change – get control of your life

1. Become aware of your feelings- your feelings are your best gauge of inappropriate boundaries.


2. Keep a journal of your progress. Write about your feelings, thoughts, and successes.


3. Notice (and record) the following: who, what, where and how of boundaries. Who is it with, friends, family, or work relationships? Is it when you are tired or vulnerable, at home, when you are out, men or women?


4. Boundaries are about respect. Invite respect from others by telling them how you feel about what they are doing.


5. Communicate clearly what is happening for you and what you want to happen. Use this formula:

When you_________________(behavior, be specific)

I feel_____________ (uncomfortable, disrespected etc.)

I want you to ____________________________ or

The consequences are (if you continue this behavior) _____________________(that I will_______________)


6. “One Day at a time” the phrase used in AA is helpful in changing the way you set boundaries. Choose something easier to deal with for example asserting yourself when someone cuts in front of you at the store rather than confronting your employer. Small successes lead to more confidence and bigger successes.


7. Treat yourself kindly at all times and if you make a mistake or regret not setting a boundary use it as a learning experience not an opportunity to give your self a hard time.


Dr. Denise Hall

Through Dragonfly Psychology Services I offer you insightful articles that will inspire, inform and provide you with helpful strategies that will improve the quality of your life.

About the Author:

Dr. Denise Hall
Through Dragonfly Psychology Services I offer you insightful articles that will inspire, inform and provide you with helpful strategies that will improve the quality of your life.

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