Steps To Setting Healthy Boundaries

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We all may have limitations in life when it comes to our interactions with those around us. These limits, known as boundaries, can prevent people from poorly affecting our mental or physical health by letting them know what they are and are not allowed to do when they engage with us. However, not everyone knows how to identify or set boundaries.

Are you having trouble with your boundaries?

Why is setting boundaries necessary?

Personal boundaries are essentially our rules that can tell other people what lines they should not cross when it comes to what they say and do with us. When properly established, they can help us to respect ourselves and give ourselves a voice, and to control how we interact with the world around us so that we continue to do so in a way that is healthy for us.

If you do not set healthy boundaries, no matter who the boundary is with, the relationships you have with other people might have problems. It is vital that each person in a relationship recognize that they are an individual with their own emotions, preferences, and needs. Once you define your needs and preferences, you can set healthy boundaries. 

Steps to setting your personal boundaries

Boundaries may be among the most powerful tools for healthy relationships. Often, individuals might give in to peer pressure or involve themselves in situations they don’t honestly want to be in. This can be either because they have not set boundaries or they are struggling to understand their boundaries.

Below, we will take a look at some steps you can take to set healthy boundaries, including how to set boundaries with family.

Step 1: Identify your wants

The first step in setting boundaries is to identify what you want from your relationships with other people. You may be used to giving to others or neglecting your own wants in favor of someone else’s, so take a moment to think about your own needs and wants; what interests you? What you might want to get out of a relationship? 

For example, consider the following:

  • What is most important to you when you enter into a relationship (romantic or friendly)?
  • What are some of your values, and what values do you want someone you are close with to have?
  • What do you want most in life? How do you plan to achieve this?
  • What bothers you the most in a relationship? Do you have any hard lines that a partner, friend, coworker, or family member should not cross?
Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Step 2: Give yourself permission to ask for what you want and be specific

Now that you have identified your wants, it is time to ask for them. This is sometimes one of the biggest problems individuals encounter with setting boundaries; they might not want to ask for what they want for fear of appearing rude or unreasonable. This fear can also come from worrying that the other person will become upset or mad. 

To set appropriate boundaries, though, it is important to face this fear. Other people’s discomfort is not more important than your health and safety; you deserve to have your feelings, wants, and needs respected in all of your relationships. So, practice setting these boundaries even when you feel uncomfortable or nervous about the other person’s reaction. Often, the more you do it, the easier it will get.

The second part of this step is to be clear about what you want. If you are not specific about what your boundaries include and exclude, it can cause confusion. Make sure that your boundaries are specific regarding what is appropriate and what you will not tolerate.

Step 3: Discuss and set expectations

We often go into relationships with pre-existing expectations for how the other person or people involved will act or think. This usually comes from our lived experiences with other relationships of a similar nature. But it’s important to remember that every relationship is unique; unfounded expectations build up hope for something that may not happen. 

Remember that the person you are setting a boundary with cannot read your mind and may not automatically know what kinds of boundaries you need to set in order to feel safe and respected. This doesn’t make them a bad person, but it does mean that you need to actively discuss your boundaries in every new relationship. 

Step 4: If the answer is no, that means no

While it would be nice to hear the word “yes” every time you ask for something, it does not always happen; in life, you will not always get precisely what you want. 

Regarding healthy boundaries in a relationship, the goal is to ask for what you want clearly rather than simply receiving a “yes” answer. If someone says no to your request, you should respect their boundaries and accept that the answer is no, even if this means you have to walk away from the relationship.

Are you having trouble with your boundaries?

Practicing healthy boundaries in therapy

When people struggle to set healthy boundaries, the problem can sometimes be traced back to their family of origin. Therefore, family systems therapy can be helpful for individuals who hope to learn to distinguish their own wants, needs, and sense of self from those of others. Family systems therapy is usually used to treat entire families. 

As discussed above, therapy can be an effective way to work on setting healthier boundaries. But with today’s busy schedules, finding the time to attend in-person therapy can be difficult. This is where online therapy can help. In addition, online therapy typically offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office. 

Online counseling is effective, according to various clinically reviewed studies, and it can make a big difference. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped people set healthier boundaries before. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor reviews

“Just starting my council sessions with Dr Foote. So far, the sessions have been helpful, and productive. She is very insightful, and professional. I would recommend her to anyone needing help managing the boundaries of their relationships.”

“Dr. Perez had helped me build up my communication skills with friends and family while also drawing healthy boundaries and working through my hectic emotions. I feel like I can set goals and actually stick to them now, and the bad days are easier for me to manage.”


By setting and respecting your own boundaries, you may notice a big difference in how you behave and how others treat you. You can set these boundaries by recognizing what you want, asking for it clearly and decisively, and remembering to respect other people’s boundaries in return. You can also get help setting boundaries with online therapy.
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