Healthy Boundary or Manipulation? How to Tell the Difference

July 31, 2020 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Healthy boundaries can be hard to recognize. For example, have you ever had someone set a boundary with you but it didn't feel right? Maybe they stated in such a way that it was hard to know if it was a legitimate boundary or a manipulation. Perhaps you have been manipulative with others but framed it as setting a boundary. This can be a confusing dynamic in interpersonal relationships and I've certainly struggled with it myself at times. Let's take a look at how you can tell if someone is setting a healthy boundary or being manipulative.

Healthy Boundaries Are Respectful to Both Parties

Understanding that healthy boundaries honor both parties was the most helpful tool for me in assessing whether a boundary was legitimate or not. Imagine your romantic partner says to you, "I need to have sex every day. That's really important to me and if you love me you will be willing to meet my needs."

Now imagine you aren't comfortable with that at all. Your partner is framing it as a relational need but you would have to dishonor your own needs and body to meet the demand. In this case your partner is not setting an appropriate boundary because they are asking you to abandon your own needs. Here are some other ways to know when you are dealing with manipulation and not a healthy boundary:

  • You are being asked to do something you feel is immoral
  • You are being asked to do something that could have major consequences
  • You are being asked to disrespect yourself or someone else
  • You have already said no but you're still being pressured

Healthy Boundaries Improve Relationships

I used to think of boundaries as a way to protect myself from others. Over the years, I have learned that healthy boundaries actually serve all parties involved. For example, if I set a boundary with my boss that I will not tolerate being yelled at when he is upset, I'm not just protecting myself. I'm protecting the working relationship and the overall environment of the workplace for my coworkers as well. I'm even helping my boss to be a better leader. It's a win-win-win.

For me, understanding the difference between boundaries and manipulation has helped me be a more assertive, and respectful person in all my relationships. I especially appreciate the value of setting boundaries with myself to ensure I treat my mind, body, heart, and the people in my life with care and consideration.

How do you determine if a request is a healthy boundary or attempt at manipulation? Put your answer in the comments below.

APA Reference
Green, H. (2020, July 31). Healthy Boundary or Manipulation? How to Tell the Difference, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 12 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.

Carol English
September, 14 2023 at 12:38 pm

Boundaries on how you want to be treated are understandable. But what about boundaries set that your not allowed to talk about anything unless the person with the boundaries agree with it? I am not allowed to talk about news, weather, government, politics, health etc. I especially am not allowed to talk about vaccines. Not allowed to talk about gender, schools sexucializing children. Not allowed to talk about anything that affects our lives. I can listen but not speak.

December, 7 2023 at 1:42 am

That is not boundaries. If someone’s boundaries require you to not communicate there is something wrong. That is a manipulation tactic not a boundary. That is not about boundaries it is about control.

Nadira Lakeram
May, 23 2022 at 12:51 pm

I love the part where Dr. Green mentions setting boundaries helps both parties, and in the example, boundaries can help the boss become a better leader. Sometimes, those who impose on other people's boundaries are not used to setting boundaries themselves. So, when you set your healthy boundaries, you're actually showing the other party involved how to better respect you or how to allow your relationship to work better. While, also showing them they can set limits in accordance with their needs, as well.

Lizanne Corbit
August, 4 2020 at 3:53 pm

Yahoo for this! Boundaries are absolutely mutually beneficial, but it is so common for people to think that boundaries only work in a one-sided way (and then they get a bad rep). I love that you made the point of saying that boundaries are "respectful" to both parties, this is huge, and such a wonderful indicator to use when determining whether or not the boundary in question is in fact a healthy one. Thank you for posting!

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