5 Ways to Set Boundaries

Posted on: November 22nd, 2014 by

It’s not New Years, but I’m making a resolution, and that is to honor the word “Boundary.”

Boundary. It’s my word for today, the rest of the year, and forever. Before cancer hit, I didn’t know how to set boundaries with people. Or maybe I knew how, but was too afraid of being assertive enough to stop people from draining me. I allowed others to wreck havoc on my life and to take advantage of non-assertive me.

I’m a relatively nice person, but in years past I have been way too nice.

When cancer wiped its filthy feet on my doormat, however, I had to recalibrate how I was going to interact with the world and live my life, for however long that might be. I also had to redefine the word, “life.” Despite knowing the obvious definition, I realized that a life made miserable because of toxic people was no quality life at all. If I continued living without setting and keeping sufficient boundaries, then I wasn’t really living.

Setting boundaries is actually pretty easy, but sticking to them is a constant battle. And that’s because from now until always some people will try taking advantage of others. It’s just part of the nature of people.

So I came up with a list of those seemingly elusive boundaries. This how-to helps me continually take pause and remind myself of what’s important in life. I must remind myself each day to honor this list, and I’m hoping it helps you too.

Here, then, are my top 5 ways to set boundaries. And with the holidays fast approaching, this short list may become especially handy.

Know your priorities. Figure out what is important to you. You can do this in a list. Despite all my important obligations that pull me every which way, my priority is my daughter. I cannot allow anything to override my commitment to her.

Commit to yourself first. Perhaps this should’ve been step No. 1. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself first — especially if you are a caregiver of any sort — you cannot be of good service to others and/or your vocation. Taking the time for a massage, exercise, hobbies, sleeping well, and eating healthy is time well-spent.

Avoid toxic people. Avoid those who drain your time and energy for no good reason. Distance yourself from negative people, for they often take great pleasure in bringing you down. People who gossip are notorious for creating an air of negativity.

Keep drama off your radar. If you can, minimize how involved you get in the drama of others. Don’t stew in the maelstrom stirred up by people with a penchant for “crises.” Instead, take a deep breath and disconnect from unnecessary drama.

Avoid negative self-talk. Sometimes we are our worst enemies. I find it so easy to lapse into negative self-talk. But rather than saying we cannot do something, we ought to say we can accomplish what we set out to.

I’ve found these strategies essential to my physical and mental well-being. Sometimes, I let the boundaries slip, and I reassess how I could more effectively set and honor them.


Let’s just say I’m a work in progress.

What boundaries have you set?

How effective are you at setting boundaries?

Anything you would add to the list?

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14 Responses to 5 Ways to Set Boundaries

  1. Sharon Greene had this to say about that:

    I have always had problems setting and maintaining boundaries. These suggestions look
    like something I could try and maybe stick to. Thanks for this post.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Sharon, I’m hoping I’ve been helpful to you. I also have had difficulty navigating boundaries, and I think this problem is pretty widespread. I’m really hoping this list will help you.

  2. Lisa DeFerrari had this to say about that:

    Hi, Beth. I’m definitely a work in progress too. One thing I did find is that my priorities have become a lot fewer. Sticking to them is not always the easiest thing to do, but each time I reaffirm those priorities I think they strengthen. Thanks for sharing these terrific insights.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, having fewer priorities is a good thing, and I’m glad they strengthen. I think we are all works in progress.

  3. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I think we are all a work in progress. Your list is excellent. It is hard sometimes to put ourselves first, but of course we all know we should for obvious reasons. I have gotten better at saying no to things I don’t want to do, but I sometimes still ‘suffer’ from that guilt thing when I do say no, so as I said, I’m most definitely still a work in progress. I guess what I would add to the list is set your boundaries and ditch the guilt. Thanks for writing about this important topic, Beth.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      I also sometimes feel guilt when I say “no” to things. It’s a very natural emotion. I agree we are all works in progress. Your addition of “ditch the guilt” is perfect! The guilt has to go, for sure.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, my friend.

  4. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Wise advice. The more we practice, the better we’ll get at this, I hope. And sometimes, it helps to go back to someone who trounced on our boundaries & let them know what they could have done better, especially if you have to keep dealing with them, i.e., healthcare staff. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thanks, Kathi! Your suggestion of going back to the boundary offender and explaining how he/she could’ve better honored your boundaries is a good one.

      I’m sure you have to navigate those boundaries all the time in your profession.

  5. Eileen@womaninthehat had this to say about that:

    Beth, I can’t tell you how often I read your posts and identify, but it’s a lot. One of the things I got out of cancer is learning that I was of a “too nice personality.” I’m learning to take care of me and to go out of my way for people when it’s truly in my heart and not because I don’t know how to say no. Thanks for a great post. We are all works in progress.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Eileen,

      I relate to your posts as well. Being too nice is really detrimental, I think. We have to take care of ourselves first. Saying “yes” when we mean “no” is a definite problem.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. karen sutherland had this to say about that:

    dear Beth,

    this is a great time of year to think about boundaries; we are all so busy and can get ourselves spread way too thin. I love each one on your list, and I also liked Kathi’s idea about speaking up if someone violates them, especially those on our health care teams. my boundary this year is to allow myself to only indulge in holiday things I can handle this year – and let the rest of it go – with no guilt whatsoever. and I, too, find reviewing my boundaries ands re-affirming them helps me stay grounded. thanks for such an excellent post!

    much love,

    Karen oxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Karen, thank you for such an insightful comment. You are right: we often spread ourselves too thin. The guilt part is the difficult one for me, but I’m taking your advice: to let go of the guilt.

      I appreciate your readership and support.

  7. Lily had this to say about that:

    I’ve learned to say “I’ll have to get back to you” instead of jumping in with both feet and saying “yes!”

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