The 4-Step Process For Setting Boundaries People Will Actually Respect

Without structure, boundaries can easily be violated and make people feel worse.

Last updated on Apr 14, 2024

Woman smiling and strongly enforcing boundaries on a bright background ViDI Studios via Shutterstock | sparklestroke & diery's designs via Canva 

Boundaries are one of the most important concepts, and yet many fail to fully understand them — even when they try to use them from time to time. The problem for most is in enforcing boundaries in relationships and staying consistent. If a person is never able to follow through with their boundaries, they will just keep feeling worse after their boundaries are repeatedly broken.  

What is the secret to preventing this cycle? Recognize that boundaries work best when there are also consequences and agreements for the future. 


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How to establish strong boundaries people will respect

1. Establish your boundaries clearly

We all understand physical boundaries, as they are easier to see, like the walls of a building or a door. Some boundaries have to be firm while others are more flexible. It depends on the situation.


Besides physical boundaries, there are:

  • mental boundaries
  • social boundaries
  • sexual boundaries
  • spiritual boundaries
  • emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries are harder to realize. They also tend to hurt a lot.

2. Understand the value of your anger 

Understand that anger is an emotion that arises, in this case, because someone has broken a boundary. There is nothing wrong with anger. The issue comes in how you choose to express yourself. It is not ok to punch a wall and break your wrist. It is ok to hit a punching bag.

Also, it is not ok to scream and yell at another person. You can learn to control your anger. This will include finding healthier ways to deal with it.


Boundaries are meant to protect you, to keep you safe. You get to choose your boundaries. If you are a mother, you also need boundaries to help keep your children safe, and if you feel angry when those are violated, you have every right to feel angry while controlling your reactions in ways that are best for yourself and your children. 



3. Determine the consequences for when your boundaries are broken 

The consequence needs to be something that you can follow through with. If you threaten the consequence and never follow through the other person will start to assume that you do not mean what you say.

The consequence needs to be something that does not hurt everyone around. For instance, when establishing boundaries and consequences for children: If a child does not do their homework, it is not ok to cancel a family outing…it needs to be something that will affect the child. Consequences need to be something that can happen in a timely matter, be specific, and be realistically connected to what the boundary issue has been.


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woman against pink background pointing out a boundary line Photo: ViDI Studios via Shutterstock |Trendify via Canva

4. Establish an agreement on boundaries and consequences

What does an agreement have to do with boundaries? When talking about boundaries, most people do not think beyond boundaries and consequences.


When the time is right, the idea is to go beyond talking about the boundary and have a conversation with the other person in order to come to an agreement on what needs to happen.

Here's a very simple example of an agreement: When you make an appointment with someone or a business, it becomes an agreement when you find a time that works for both of you. There's also an agreement that canceling that appointment at the last moment may cause you to incur a cancellation fee. 

Boundaries are everywhere around you. They can keep you healthy and safe. You are able to choose your boundaries even when life is difficult. 


Explore your boundaries. You can do it!

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Audrey Tait is a counselor, dietitian, author, and founder of Inspirational Insights Counseling, Inc., who helps people overcome addictions, and eating disorders, and create positive affirmations in their lives. Her book, Reflective Meditations Trilogy: Understanding My Authentic Self, Believing in Myself, Loving Myself, Plus Understanding My Boundaries is available now.