Do you wonder why your co-workers dump extra work on you?  Why your family intrudes on your personal space?  Or why you tend to attract men who take more than they give?

The good and bad news is that it has more to do with you than them.  We teach others how to treat us.

Boundaries are the limits we set with other people, which teach them what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior towards us.

Some of us were raised with healthy boundaries and we naturally know what we want and don’t want and have the skills to communicate that – regardless of the needs or response of other people.

Some of use learned to be too rigid or too flexible:

Rigid Boundaries Porous Boundaries Healthy Boundaries
Avoids intimacy and close relationships.

Unlikely to ask for help.

Has few close relationships.

Very protective of personal information.

May seem detached, even with romantic partners.

Keeps others at a distance to avoid the possibility of rejection.

Overshares personal information.

Difficulty saying “no” to the requests of others.

Overinvolved with others’ problems.

Dependent on the opinions of others.

Accepting of abuse or disrespect.

Fears rejection if they do not comply with others.

Values own opinions.

Doesn’t compromise values for others.

Shares personal information in an appropriate way (does not over or under share).

Knows personal wants and needs, and can communicate them.

Accepting when others say “no” to them.

Some boundaries are pretty clear – it’s not ok for someone to violate your space or touch you inappropriately.

Many boundaries are more subtle and confusing:

  • Not knowing how to separate your feelings from your partner’s and allowing his/her mood to dictate your level of happiness or sadness (a.k.a. codependency).
  • Sacrificing your plans, dreams, and goals in order to please others.
  • Not taking responsibility for yourself and blaming others for your problems.

Why do we NOT enforce or uphold our boundaries?

  • FEAR of rejection and, ultimately, abandonment.
  • FEAR of confrontation.
  • Fear for our safety
  • Guilt

And mostly, because we never learned what boundaries are and how to set and enforce them.

Take a moment now and think about your boundaries:

  1. Think about how you’d like to be treated.Write down words, sentences, or bits of poetry or lyrics that come to mind. Doodle or describe any images that pop into your head.
  2. Explore your current boundaries.Think about relationships you have now or have had in the past with friends, significant others, family members and authority figures. What feels/felt good in those relationships? What feels/felt bad? Jot down any words, thoughts, ideas, images, stories or memories that come to mind. Think about when you spoke up, when you didn’t, and whether or how conflicts got resolved. Circle or highlight any patterns you notice. How does the first list compare to this one?  Be honest with yourself and remember that your feelings are valid. The more honest with yourself you are, the clearer your boundaries will be.
  3. Think about your past.When you were younger, who did you feel safe around? Who did you feel let down by? Who were you closest to? What were your parents or caregivers like with you when you were younger? What did you learn from them? Did you feel loved? How did you know you were loved? What did you expect from your parents/caregivers growing up? Did you ever feel lonely or overlooked? Or overwhelmed, like they were “too much”? Ask yourself: Am I recreating any past hurts, fears or insecurities? Am I demanding things from my partner that I didn’t get from my parents, or that should really come from myself? Write down your thoughts, feelings and memories.

Now that you are defining your boundaries, read part 2 of this blog on Assertiveness, to start speaking up and enforcing your boundaries.

Dr. Janet Fienemann is a Coach and Psychotherapist helping women (in-person & online) master their thoughts and emotions; kick destructive relationship patterns, anxiety and self-doubt to the curb; and finally create the life they truly desire.   To contact Dr. Janet or to work with her one-on-one or through her signature program, Rock Your Life, please contact her at  She would love to hear from you.