Reading Time: 7 minutes

Key Points


  • Boundaries are not just words; they’re actions.
  • To truly establish boundaries, one must demonstrate them.
  • Indecision can emerge when boundaries are unclear or porous.
  • Unhealthy behaviors and patterns often serve to protect us from confronting emotional pain.





In life, we often voice our boundaries but fail to enforce them, leading others to disregard our needs.

By merely expressing our boundaries without follow-through, we risk being misunderstood or even dismissed. It’s essential to not just tell, but show.



Boundaries: More than Words:

Stating “don’t text me about work on the weekends” is insufficient if not backed by action. If someone breaches a boundary, but we continue to engage with them as if nothing happened, our words lose weight.

Remember, while it’s essential to communicate our boundaries, it’s equally vital to act on them. This teaches others to respect them, and over time, reinforces the behavior we expect.

Boundaries are shown, not just told.




Setting Boundaries With Ourselves

Avoiding Pain:

It’s human nature to avoid pain. We sometimes offer solutions to others, not necessarily to help them but to alleviate our discomfort. By doing so, we might unknowingly rob them of their journey to find their own answers.

When faced with someone’s distress, many of us instinctively jump into problem-solving mode, trying to offer solutions.

But why is that? Often, it’s an unconscious attempt to ease our own discomfort. When someone we care about is in pain, it inadvertently causes us pain.

By offering a solution, we’re not just trying to alleviate their suffering; we’re trying to mitigate our own.

True support often lies in listening, holding space, and allowing the individual to find their own answers. After all, the solutions to our problems are most effective when they come from within.

Instead, ask open-ended questions like “What do you think you should do?” or “I believe in you and I’m here to support you. What can I do to be more supportive?

Dysfunctional Behaviors as Distractions:

“Many resort to socially acceptable behaviors like workaholism or over-exercising to numb emotional pain.

These ‘shadow addictions’ may not have immediate disastrous outcomes, but they hinder emotional growth and clarity.

The “fires” we repeatedly put out in our lives might just be distractions we unconsciously set to divert our attention from the real issues.” – Boundary Boss


Examining Boundary Categories: 


Boundaries can often be less about what other people do and more about what you do. Here are boundaries segmented into several categories:

Physical: Physical boundaries involve your body and the immediate space around it. Set a standard of expectations in your daily routine, and if your space is violated, be assertive and clear about the infraction.

Have a “Tell” to show other employees that you’re busy (i.e. Wearing headphones or closing your door) or set your working hours-and stick to them.

  • “I prefer if you knock before entering my office, please.”
  • “My headphones are a signal that I’m focusing. Can we chat later?”

Mental: These involve your thoughts, values, and opinions.

You can tell people about how you prefer to receive feedback.

Choose not to participating in doubling down on other’s negative feelings.

When someone tries to impose their beliefs on you, be able to listen to others’ opinions without feeling pressured to adopt them.

  • “I respect your perspective, but I have my own beliefs and prefer not to share them.”
  • “Let’s agree to disagree on this topic.”
  • “I’d appreciate it if you’d ask before sharing your opinion or advice.”

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across so that the knowledge that might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has difficulty in laying his hands.”

— Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlett

Material: These boundaries dictate how you treat your possessions and how you expect others to treat them.

Lending items only when asked or having a clear conversation about rules before borrowing.

  • “I’m happy to lend you my book, but I’d like it back by next week.”
  • “I don’t mind sharing, but I’d like to be asked first.”
  • “Please take care of my things as if they are your own.”


Emotional: These involve your feelings. Establishing these boundaries means you recognize your emotions and needs and can distinguish them from someone else’s.

Not feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions or not sacrificing your own needs for others constantly. If a friend constantly dumps their problems on you, setting aside specific times to talk can be a way to set a boundary.

  • “I’m here for you, but I also need some time to process my own feelings.”
  • “I can’t take on your emotional burden right now; I hope you understand.”
  • “It’s not my responsibility to fix everything for you, but I’m here to support you.”


Workload: Overworked and underpaid, another day, another dollar… phrases like these came about because employees worked hard for little reward. Do not take more work than you can complete in a week.

If the boss wants to hand you more work or coworkers ask for help, you can say:

  • “Oh, man! I know that stress, and I feel for ya. I’d take it on if I had time, but I’m already overbooked.”
  • “I can do that for you if you take this item off my plate. I won’t be able to do them both.”
  • “Sure, that’s not a problem, but I will need more time to complete it.”


Communication Boundaries: There is a time and a place for everything. Work matters should be discussed at work unless there is an emergency. Avoid receiving work texts on personal texts and politely suggest alternative communication methods.

Some things you could say might be:

  • “I really try not to mix work communication with personal communication because it’s easier to find old messages I may need if it’s all in one place.
  • “I try to disconnect from work during the evenings. Can we discuss this during office hours?”
  • “Please use my work email for job-related matters. I like to keep personal and professional separate.”
  • “I appreciate the info, but next time, can you send it to my work email?”


Time Boundaries: Time is a big sneak; it will crawl away right under your nose and not get caught until it’s too late. Boundaries can help prevent “water fountain” chat afternoons and visits at your desk from the coworker who is fighting with the neighbor about barking dogs.

Some suitable time boundary replies could be:

  • “I’d really love to hear about your neighbor’s reply, but can we pick this up after work? I need to finish these layouts.”
  • “Thank you for the invitation to lunch. That place is so slow I couldn’t possible make it back on time.”
  • “Lunch sounds great, but I only have 30 minutes. Maybe a coffee break later?”
  • “I’m sorry I can’t attend that meeting this afternoon, I am on a time constraint and really need to focus on finishing out projects.”
  • “I need to focus on this project for the next few hours. Can we touch base in the afternoon?”


Examining Boundary Types: 

Depending on how they’re implemented, boundaries can be:

1. Rigid:

  • Rigid boundaries are often too closed or strict, preventing close relationships.
  • People with rigid boundaries might seem detached or distant and avoid intimacy and emotional connection.

2. Healthy:

  • Healthy boundaries strike a balance between protecting oneself and being open to meaningful relationships.
  • They’re based on understanding, mutual respect, and a clear sense of self-worth.

3. Porous:

  • Porous are too open, making us vulnerable to being taken advantage of or overwhelmed by others’ needs.
  • People with porous boundaries might struggle with saying “no” or frequently get involved in situations where they’re left feeling used.










Tackling Boundaries Head-On:

Establishing and maintaining boundaries requires clarity, consistency, and the courage to prioritize our well-being.

It’s crucial to discern the difference between what we say and what we tolerate. By recognizing and confronting our patterns, we can navigate the complexities of relationships more effectively.



Practical Exercise & Self-inquiries:

  1. Reflect on a recent situation where someone crossed a boundary. Did you voice your discomfort? Did you show it?
  2. Think about the dysfunctional patterns in your life. Are there behaviors you engage in to distract yourself from confronting deeper issues?
  3. Dive deep into your past. Can you recall an incident from your childhood that might have shaped your understanding of boundaries?

Source: For those keen on delving deeper, Terri Cole, “Boundary Boss,” remains the authoritative guide on this boundary method.


More Tools for the Toolbox:

  • Mental Models: A mental model is simply a representation of how something works. We cannot keep all of the details of the world in our brains, so we use models to simplify the complex into understandable and organizable chunks.
  • Hard choice model: A guide to discerning the nature of the decisions you’re faced with.
  • Speed vs Quality model: A guide with an emphasis on when to optimize for speed or quality.
  • Hanlon’s Razor: This is a mental model that advises not to attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect or ignorance.Research shows that generous acts can result in dramatic health benefits.