Setting boundaries is hard. But trying to function without boundaries is miserable– and dangerous.

Dr. Glen Doyle

Use Your Damn Skills

The people with whom we most need to set boundaries, are often the people with whom it is the hardest to set boundaries. 

Some people make it very hard to set boundaries with them. 

They can get very reactive to even the gentlest, most polite, most normal or appropriate boundaries. 

Setting a boundary doesn’t mean someone has necessarily done something wrong. It doesn’t mean that a relationship is bad or that we want the relationship to end. 

To the contrary: setting boundaries is something we do when we want the relationship to continue— and when we want to feel good and safe as the relationship continues. 

But some people are going to react as if setting a boundary is a personal insult. 

Some people will react to you setting a boundary as if you are accusing them of something. 

They may demand to know why you want to set a boundary. 

They may put pressure on you to justify the boundary you want to set— and they may expect you to supply concrete examples of their behavior that “proves” the boundary is necessary. 

Here’s the thing; you don’t have to justify your interpersonal boundaries. 

Someone doesn’t have to have done something “wrong” or violating for you to want to set a boundary with them. 

Boundaries exist for our physical and emotional safety— and one of the essential purposes of setting boundaries is to minimize the chances that something violating WILL happen. 

You don’t have to justify your comfort zone. 

You can choose to explain to someone why you feel the need to set a boundary— but that’s your choice. 

You DON’T have to get someone to agree that a boundary is necessary. 

There is a subset of people out there who, for their own reasons, will always bristle when you try to set a boundary. 

They’ll try to convince you that your need or desire to set a boundary represents a problem on YOUR part— and it’s not “fair” for you to put that problem on THEM by setting a boundary. 

For many people, this line of reasoning hooks into the doubt and shame that keeps us from asserting our boundaries and stating our needs in many areas of life. 

Sometimes this even happens with people we don’t know particularly well. 

There is a subset of people who you’ll meet, even socially, who will then feel entitled to be a presence in your life unless they are furnished with a “good enough” reason otherwise. 

(Unsurprisingly, this subset of people tends to find most reasons people give for NOT wanting them in their lives to be “not good enough.”) 

You don’t need a “good enough” reason to not want contact with someone or not want them to have access to your life. 

If you choose to give someone an explanation for why you’re setting a boundary or severing contact, do so for your reasons— and be clear with yourself that you are extending them a courtesy. 

There are absolutely people who will try to leverage your anxiety, self-doubt, and shame, in order to keep you from setting limits with them. 

Whether these people are strangers, acquaintances, professional contacts, current or former romantic partners, or family members, they tend to operate in the same way: they want to make it more of en emotional hassle to set boundaries with them, than to just let them do what they want. 

Their motivations may vary, but the result is often the same: damage to your sense of self-esteem. 

It’s really hard to build realistic, stable self-esteem when we feel we can’t set effective boundaries and limits with people.

If anybody has the power to barge into our life and stay as long as they want, regardless of how we feel about it, it’s difficult to create a life that we can reliably trust and enjoy. 

Setting boundaries can be incredibly difficult when we’re already fighting beliefs about our own “meanness” or “badness” in our own head. 

But not setting boundaries DOESN’T prove how “nice” or “good” or “mature” you are. 

Yes, setting boundaries can generate anxiety. 

But trying to function WITHOUT boundaries generates even MORE anxiety— not to mention actual danger— over the long term. 

By Dr. Glen Doyle