Setting personal boundaries

5 min read

Written by Philippa Walsh

We’ve all heard of the term ‘people pleaser’, but why does making others happy have such negative connotations? In a world where self-love has become the new mantra for the 21st Century, could striving to please others not be a positive antidote?

Well actually yes and no. Demonstrating acts of kindness and compassion to others goes a long way, in fact numerous studies show that this has a positive effect on our psychological and emotional health. The flip side of this is that if we always put our own needs second to those of others, we are in danger of devaluing ourselves and compromising our own mental and physical wellbeing.

Put simply, by taking on more than we have the capacity to handle or by agreeing to do things that we don’t really want to (for fear of disapproval from others or having an over-inflated sense of responsibility), we are more at risk of becoming burnt-out, resentful and dis-empowered.

To avoid compromising ourselves, it is a good idea to start asserting our needs by putting in place some personal boundaries.

What are personal boundaries?

Personal boundaries is the creation of an invisible line that you don’t allow others to cross. This is not to be confused with putting up barriers and shutting others out. It's about being able to assert your own opinions, needs and values in a way that is positive to both yourself and those around you. Essentially this line will protect you from being put upon and enhance your self-esteem. It is necessary if you wish to foster good self-care strategies.

The personal resources essential for good self-care:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Worth
  3. The courage to say no.


It is a fact that knowledge is power and unless we know where we are going wrong, we can’t work at changing things for the better. Take a moment and think about how doing the things you do actually makes you feel.

  • Do you feel happy to take on more tasks at work, despite being over-loaded?
  • When you say “I’m fine”, would you love to say that you’re not?
  • When your best friend asks to borrow money from you and you say ‘yes’ (even though he still hasn’t paid you back from the last time), is this okay for you?
  • Are you happy with those around you talking over you and telling you what to think?
  • When your cousin texts you at 2am for ‘urgent’ relationship advice, are you content to phone her there and then despite your early start?

There is no right or wrong way to live, but are you beginning to get where this is going? It is only by taking the time to reflect on the feelings that come up when others ask or tell you to do things, that will enable you to recognise and become more aware of what you don’t feel comfortable with.

If when you agree to things, you feel that your own needs and wishes have been compromised (even if this is only slightly), heed that feeling. It is usually a warning sign that you need to strengthen your personal boundaries, or at the very least start putting some in place.

Additionally, reflecting on and accepting some responsibility for the part you play in your relationships can be empowering. Relationships are a two-way exchange and if you are starting to notice a pattern in which your needs are never respected, how much of that has something to do with you not respecting them yourself?


It is only when you stop undervaluing yourself that you can enhance your sense of self-worth. Unfortunately a low sense of self-worth goes hand in hand with low self-esteem. The vicious cycle of avoiding negative evaluation from others and approval seeking behaviours that compromise your own needs, is repetitive and self-defeating. Whilst breaking free of this cycle can seem daunting, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs.

The fact is that we can never please all the people, all of the time. People hold their own beliefs, values and opinions. Constantly striving for approval from external sources places us under an immense amount of pressure. The grim reality is that the more you allow yourself to be compromised; the more you are sending a message to others that this is okay. 

The old saying “If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a yard” unfortunately bears some truth. If you continually say yes to tasks that you don’t have the capacity to take on, you will often be given more. If you take on the role of 24/7 personal adviser to your cousin, your cousin will expect nothing less of you!

To increase your sense of self-worth, try not to rely so much on the opinions and approval of others. Trust and believe in yourself. Stay close to your own beliefs and values by speaking your own truth - despite risking possible disapproval from others. Is it honestly so catastrophic that someone may not agree with you? Do you genuinely agree with everything that others do or say? You are entitled to your own opinion, so long as you are not being hurtful or aggressive when you assert yourself. Take ownership of your feelings and act on them appropriately. If something doesn’t feel okay, learn to express your discord. 


Saying no initially sounds so negative, especially if it is not a word that you choose to use very often. No is a word that holds great potential. The potential to improve your sense of self-worth, the potential to protect you from being put upon by others and the potential to increase your capacity to love and respect yourself. It also holds the potential to teach others to respect and listen to your needs more.

Saying no takes practice. Communicating your needs can feel very alien if you are not used to doing it - but this does not have to be difficult. It is often the case that although those who know you may initially respond with surprise, they do not react as negatively as you anticipate.

If some individuals do seem upset or angry, understand that this is their issue. You are not responsible for how others interpret or respond to the verbalisation of your needs (as long as they were spoken with care and respect). You have the right to honour your own needs, even if that means falling short of other people’s expectations of you.

An example of boundary setting:

Remember to set your boundaries by using simple clear language. Be firm but respectful and do not allow yourself to feel that you have to give any justification for your decisions.

Remember that when you set boundaries, you do not have to justify, debate or excessively explain your reasons. Be firm, polite and to the point. In the face of confrontation, simply repeat your point. Always support your boundary by keeping it in place. If you give in to resistance or allow others to emotionally blackmail you, you are telling them that it’s acceptable for them to ignore your needs. 

Boundary setting forms a solid foundation for developing self-respect and showing others that you have a sense of self-worth. It is common to feel a little guilty about saying no, especially if those you interact with are used to you always saying yes.

Whilst guilt has its place, it does not have a place in the context of setting personal boundaries. It is not selfish to say no in order to care for your mental and physical wellbeing. It would however be selfish if you only ever put your needs before others. This article is intended to encourage a sense of balance - not to promote egocentricity. 

"Balance is about making choices and enjoying them" Anon.

To see how counselling and psychotherapy in Manchester can help you learn how to set boundaries, reach out to me today.