Boundary Issues Can Cause Anxiety

Boundary issues can cause us a tremendous amount of anxiety. Boundaries refer to your sense of self, to what makes you "you." They relate to how "you" interact in the world. What's important to you? How do you navigate your relationships? Every relationship involves give and take; your sense of boundaries define when, where, and with whom you'll give and where when, and from whom you'll take. Defining and maintaining boundaries can be extraordinarily difficult, often causing high anxiety. Read on for information about two ways that boundary issues can cause anxiety.

Boundaries are part of our sense of ourselves and who we are in relationship to others. One of the harsh effects of anxiety is that it scrambles our sense of self. Anxiety often makes us worry about what we think and feel, act or don't act. We second-guess what we say. Do we have the right to say or do certain things? Do we have the right to desire and dream? 

Anxiety makes us believe that we can't have boundaries. Trying to set up some limits in our life, such as standing up for ourselves to a partner, friend, family member, or boss can be so uncomfortable that it causes more anxiety. A lack of boundaries is restrictive. It's hard to live freely when we're trapped inside an invisible fence. 

How a Lack of Boundaries Can Cause Anxiety

If you live with anxiety, you might have discovered that "no" is one of the most difficult words to utter. It's a tiny word with too much power. Pretend that you are being treated poorly by someone in your life. Maybe you're belittled on a daily basis. Perhaps you feel unheard. Or you're being ordered around. Similarly, someone might be taking advantage of the fact that you're nice and always take on what's asked of you. You'd love to stand up for yourself, to set boundaries between yourself and others who clearly have no boundaries of their own. However, the thought of doing it creates physical, cognitive (thought-based), and emotional symptoms of anxiety. Boundary issues can lead to ideas like:

  • I don't have the right to say no.
  • I'm worthless and don't deserve to have boundaries.
  • My partner might angry, and things will get worse.
  • I could ruin friendships like I always do.
  • I'm not in a position to stand up for myself at work.

As you worry and imagine what-if scenarios, anxiety continues to cause boundary issues by relentlessly thinking of the consequences of saying no and otherwise establishing boundaries between yourself and others. A lack of personal boundaries and the inability to set limits for yourself can lead to generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder as well as causing panic attacks.1

A lack of boundaries can cause anxiety. So, too, does trying to establish your limits. 

How Establishing Boundaries Can Cause Anxiety

Most people would like to be able to own their sense of self and boldly set limits for what they do and don't allow from others. Doing so would ease anxiety, increase confidence, and create greater overall life satisfaction. Despite how it may seem, boundaries improve relationships by ensuring that each person is a separate human being who is equal to the other. 

Many people know this, but the mere thought of reducing boundary problems by setting reasonable limits causes anxiety to skyrocket. There are various reasons for this, such as:

  • Fear of the consequences (being fired, having a partner leave)
  • Worry about leaving their comfort zone
  • A shortage of self-efficacy, the belief in one's ability to do something and succeed
  • Lack of specific goals for ending boundary issues
  • A willingness, but a lack of know-how

Boundary issues, whether they involve a lack of personal limits or difficulty taking action to establish boundaries for yourself, can cause life-limiting anxiety and unhappiness. If both of these difficulties--lacking self-defining boundaries and trying to establish space between yourself and others--can cause significant anxiety, how are we supposed to move past them? The next post will explore what to do about boundary issues to reduce anxiety. 


  1. Cloud, Henry, and Townsend, John. BoundariesZondervan. 1992.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, May 2). Boundary Issues Can Cause Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

July, 20 2021 at 9:07 am

A good read, and important to note the direct correlation between lack of boundaries, abandonment of self to anxiety. Often times people may think certain situations may just be their "anxiety" when in fact there are deeper rooted causes.

July, 20 2021 at 5:45 pm

Hi Nicole,
Thanks for you comment. You are so right that there are underlying factors at work in anxiety. The more aware of this people are, the less likely they are to blame themselves for their anxiety or think of it as a weakness (because it truly isn't a weakness).

Lizanne Corbit
May, 3 2019 at 8:33 pm

I love that this read not only addresses lack of boundaries adding to anxiety, but also the establishment of them. Most people think about lack of boundaries heightening anxiety, but for people with anxiety having to put them in place can also cause stress and worry. Thank you for sharing!

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