Have Trouble Setting Healthy Boundaries? Follow These 4 Tips

October 31, 2018 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Setting healthy boundaries can be challenging. Improve your boundary setting skills with these simple strategies from HealthyPlace.

Setting healthy boundaries is an essential element of relationships, but navigating the implementation of boundaries can be intimidating. A therapist once said to me, "We teach people how to treat us." Those words stayed with me. Once I understood that I teach people how to treat me based on what I will and won't tolerate, I felt empowered and began setting healthy boundaries in my relationships.

I had a friend who only reached out to me when she needed advice or wanted to vent. She seldom asked about me or my life. When I talked about myself, she found a way to shift the conversation back to her. Eventually, I realized that every time we got together, she felt better at the end of our visit, but I felt exhausted. 

In my last post, I wrote about tips for conflict resolution. These skills include asking how you want to feel about yourself at the end of an interaction. I found myself feeling used, uncared for, and undervalued. I had to set boundaries so I could feel better about myself in the relationship.

Follow These 4 Principles When Setting Healthy Boundaries

  1. Know what you want. Before setting healthy boundaries, get clear about your desired outcome. Make sure your request is reasonable and appropriate. In my case, I wanted reciprocity in the relationship. I wanted my friend to ask about my life and show a genuine interest in me.
  2. Be direct yet respectful. It's important to honor yourself, the other person, and the relationship when setting boundaries. I told my friend how much I valued our friendship. I let her know I wanted to share my hurt and frustration with her because I wanted the relationship to be healthy and long-lasting. 
  3. Set expectations. I expected my friend to show more interest in me and my life. I shared what she could expect if she didn't honor my boundary. I committed to calling her out when she made conversations all about her.
  4. Follow through. Maintaining the boundary can be the most challenging part. My friend showed some defensiveness in our initial conversation but promised to ask more about me. She made a brief effort in the beginning but quickly reverted to her old ways. I committed to myself and her, and I knew I needed to follow through. Whenever she interrupted me and directed the conversation back to her, I pointed it out with a statement like, "I'm still processing this issue," or "I'd like to finish working through my problem before we talk about yours." 

Setting Healthy Boundaries Can Have Consequences

The reason boundary implementation can be so hard is that you may have to deal with undesired outcomes. As I continued to hold my boundary, my friend called me less and less. We never had a major falling out, but today we are acquaintances at best. I hoped the relationship would improve, but instead, it fizzled out. That made me sad. However, I was clear that the friendship was not good for me if it remained one-sided and I was willing to let it go if it could not meet my needs.

Most of the time when I set healthy boundaries, it goes well and the relationship improves. I shared this example because it highlights the need to be clear about what you want and to accept the consequences when your boundaries are pushed or rejected by others. Setting and maintaining boundaries can be uncomfortable, but it's good for you, others, and your relationships when healthy, respectful boundaries are in place.

See also:

APA Reference
Green, H. (2018, October 31). Have Trouble Setting Healthy Boundaries? Follow These 4 Tips, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.

November, 1 2018 at 4:08 pm

It wasn't always like that, of course. We were in different places in our lives when the friendship began, and for several years the relationship met my needs. Relationship dynamics can change slowly over time, and in my case, it took a while to realize what it had become. I didn't want to give up on her completely, so pointing out the problem and setting boundaries felt like the right thing to do. Ultimately, I'm glad I was clear with her and with myself. I felt good about how I handled the situation, and I'm happy I respected myself enough to let go of a relationship that no longer met my needs.

November, 1 2018 at 1:11 pm

Sounds like this "friend" was an emotional drain and a narcissist at best. I think you're much better off without her in your life - in my opinion, you should NEVER have to ask a real friend to be interested in you. That's a natural part of being a friend. Sure, sometimes everyone has something that feels all-consuming and like we can't talk about anything else, but overall your friends should be excited to learn about what's new in your life and know you as a person more deeply.
As hard as it can be to let go of friendships (to me it always feels like I did something wrong, even if it was clearly them like in your situation here), you're ultimately raising the quality of the people who surround you, which helps with overall mental health.
Great job recognizing her patterns, calling her out gracefully, and sticking to your boundaries when she reverted back to her old selfish ways, Heidi.

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