Strategies for Setting Effective Boundaries

By Kristen Quinones, LMSW

Boundaries are a necessary and healthy part of relationships and effective communication strategies make it possible to implement them. Using boundaries is a form of self respect and prioritizing mental health. Here are some examples of how to boundary set:

1. When someone is codependent

It is admirable to want to be there for a friend in a time of need. However, when someone is constantly dependent on you for support and to make decisions, is unable to cope with their feelings on their own, and is always in crisis, it can be difficult to set boundaries.

Communication Strategies:

  • When someone is sending a lot of messages to your phone: I want to hear what you have to say. I have a lot on my plate right now so it may be best to set up a time to meet tomorrow so I can give you my full attention.
     
  • When someone wants you to make decisions for them: I cannot make these decisions for you, but I am here to listen as you weigh the pros and cons.
     
  • When someone is in a crisis: I can see you’re going through a lot right now. You have my support, and I am here to listen. Have you ever considered getting more support for yourself? Sometimes I like to process and brainstorm strategies with my therapist. I can help you look into this if you are interested.

2. When someone asks intrusive questions

When someone asks very personal questions, we may feel put on the spot and uncomfortable. Sometimes we answer to get through the awkward moment and then regret it later.

Communication Strategies:

  • I don’t like to think about/talk about that. How about we discuss something else?
  • As a general rule, I don’t share that with others.
  • I’m not sure how to answer that. Can we come back to that at another time?

3. When someone is overwhelming you

Sometimes a person can become very attached to you, overwhelm you with messages and trying to make plans, or make it difficult to say no to them. It is important to validate their feelings when boundary setting.

Communication Strategies:

  • Thank you for thinking of inviting me. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it. I hope you have a great time. (A reason why you cannot attend something is not always necessary to give a person.)
  • Now is not a good time for me to text. I want to be able to focus on what you are sending me before I reply. I will get back to you when I can talk. (Only use this is you intend to reply in the future.)
  • I can’t talk right now, but let’s discuss this in person tomorrow.
  • It means a lot to me that you want to spend this time together. This friendship is important to me. I want to make sure I am prioritizing time with all of my friends, so I can’t commit to hanging out every weekend.

4. When someone is overly critical of you

It does not feel good to feel criticized by others. Sometimes it is best to redirect the conversation or step back until the other person is ready to communicate more respectfully.

Communication Strategies:

  • It would mean a lot to me if you could use more productive and constructive ways to express how you’re feeling. I am feeling hurt by how you said that. Can you try to think of another way to say that?
  • I think we should take a step back and talk more when we can speak more respectfully to one another. That would be more productive.

Boundaries can be helpful in countless situations. Sometimes we avoid boundary setting because we do not want to upset someone. However, by avoiding boundaries we upset ourselves and are not honest in relationships about our feelings and needs. This impacts our wellbeing and mental health. Try out some of these strategies to help practice boundary setting skills.

Kristen Quinones is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in setting and maintaining boundaries contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.