How to Build Boundaries that Empower YOU

Setting boundaries is a challenge for most of us. We have lots of fears about standing up to people and asking for what we need. It may feel selfish, demanding or just plain scary.  So, why bother? Check out our earlier blog 5 Reasons You Need to Build Stronger Boundaries NOW! to read more about the benefits of healthy boundaries.


At one point in my life, I was involved in a very toxic marriage. After years of accepting my husband’s abuse and neglect, in the name of being a “good Christian wife,” he walked out on me and into the arms of someone new. I was devastated and felt like such a loser . . . I had allowed myself to become his full-time caretaker, “mommy” and whipping post and yet it still wasn’t enough.

My shame and shattered self-worth made me vulnerable to even more abuse. For years, even after I was in a new, healthier relationship, my extended family would continually bring up my former marriage. It seemed to be the inevitable topic of every holiday meal. Sometime between saying grace and serving dessert, they would always end up telling stories about my ex at his worst, punctuated with jabs at me for choosing so poorly.

It was grueling and painful, but since I had little self-respect at that point, I let it continue—for YEARS. Every time they’d start up, I’d hunker down and pretend it wasn’t killing me inside. I’d force a little laugh and they’d just keep at it. It didn’t matter who was there or how many times the stories had been told—It became as much a part of our “festivities” as the Christmas ham. I quickly began to dread our get-togethers.


Over time, God began to rebuild my self-esteem. I came to realize that I didn’t need to grit my teeth through every family event, I had other choices. It took me a long time to be able to do it, but finally, one day when they started in again, I stood up for myself and said,”Yes, I made a wrong choice and I have paid dearly for it, but that was a long time ago. I have moved on, I am no longer that person and I refuse to be limited or defined by that mistake. If you insist on continuing to rehash this low point in my life every time we get together, I will no longer be able to attend our family events. I really hope that doesn’t have to happen.”

I was completely ready to follow through with my threat if need be. Thankfully, I didn’t have to.

I got a lot of shocked looks and later overheard several of them whispering “what’s gotten into her; how come she’s so super-sensitive all of a sudden?” Nobody ever apologized or talked directly to me about it, but that was the last time I had to endure the lengthy replays about the worst period in my life.

It doesn’t always work that smoothly. Many times there will be pushback. Our new boundaries will be tested and maybe even ignored, but if we stand strong and consistent, we can take back the power we unintentionally gave away.


It’s normal to fear how others will react if we set boundaries. The outcome is always unpredictable when other people are involved. You may worry that it is inappropriate or rebellious to say no to a close friend or elder. You may struggle with the belief that your needs aren’t that important or that you deserve whatever you get because of your past experiences.

Boundaries are a sign of self-respect. Give yourself permission to set them AND to enforce them.


We’ve probably all heard that we can’t change others, but we still waste an incredible amount of time and emotional energy trying—always to no avail. There is much freedom in realizing that, since we can’t control their actions and reactions, we are also absolved of any responsibility for what they say or do.

But, how they’re acting isn’t OK. They’re hurting us. They’re stressing us out. Their continual blaming, lying, or disrespect is wearing us down. If we really can’t change them, where is the hope of anything ever being different? Aren’t we just stuck taking whatever they dole out?

No! The answer is to change how WE deal with them. We need to take back the power that we lost.

Unknowingly we have allowed them to treat us the way that they do and it has worked for them. They’ve been able to control the situation and manipulate us into responding in a way that has some sort of payoff for them.

You’ve been coerced into learning to dance a dance that you don’t even like. The only reason their ways have worked is that we didn’t know how to resist them. As we change the way we deal with them, their words and behaviors become less effective.

As Dr. Henry Cloud says in his best-selling book Boundaries. “They may be more motivated to change if their old ways no longer work for them.”


You can’t communicate to others what isn’t first clear to you. So, obviously, that’s where we need to start.

Boundaries are not about controlling the other person, they need to be about you and your needs. You may have never even considered what YOU need to feel safe, respected and functioning at your best. Take some time to determine what is important to you and what you value most.

Identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. What can you tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.  Pay attention to your feelings. Growing feelings of anxiety, uneasiness, or feeling unappreciated or taken advantage of are often a sign that our boundaries are lacking.

Very often they indicate that we are pushing ourselves beyond our own limits because we feel guilty or duty-bound or we are letting someone impose their values or expectations on us.

Not ALL discomfort is bad. If we are trying to make changes in our life, we may choose to step out and try new ways of doing things that make us uncomfortable at first. This is how we stretch and grow and develop better life skills. That’s different than experiencing discomfort because of someone else’s disrespect of us as a person.

As you’re considering boundaries that you’d like to put in place, determine how each one might help you. Will it, as in my example, allow you to move beyond your past mistakes and enjoy your family without being on guard for “the attack?” Could it reduce your stress? Does it have the potential to eliminate the resentment you feel about being used, discounted, or overlooked? Good boundaries aren’t just rules for rule’s sake, they’re intended to elicit respect for your authentic needs.


This is where people seem to get messed up. Most decent people, by nature, don’t want other people to hurt—especially if we perceive that we are the cause of their pain. Somewhere along the line,  we decided that it was better to sacrifice ourselves and our well-being.

Others of us are afraid of what will happen if we don’t comply with their directives. We certainly don’t want to incur their wrath or risk their rejection and the fall-out that that could cause.

We need to understand that allowing natural consequences is not mean-spirited.

In fact, it is truly the loving thing to do. Yes, there are likely going to be repercussions, but when we keep someone from feeling the negative consequences of their actions we encourage them to stay stuck.

As a general rule, people continue the same behaviors until those behaviors aren’t working for them anymore. Why would anyone step up and take the risks to fix something that, to them, doesn’t feel broken? They aren’t going to go out on a limb to try to adjust their patterns if they are already achieving what they want or think they need.

You are not setting out to judge their choices, you are learning to honor your own personal needs by letting those around you experience the natural consequences of their choices.

For instance, you need to feel safe in your relationships. If your husband starts blaming or degrading you, the predetermined consequence could be that you will leave the room and the conversation.

Think and pray about how you will respond if your stated boundaries are not honored. Write them down. Memorize them. Share them with the people in your life.


People will push and test your limits. Some will even blatantly disrespect your wishes. You’ll know you’re getting healthier when your emotions don’t get in a knot every time it happens. You don’t have to continually be reminding them of your rules. You need to show them you mean business.

If you’ve told your chatty friend that you can’t take personal calls while you are at work and they keep calling anyway, you can choose not to answer the phone when you see their number come up. Your actions will speak much louder than words. Taking the call and breaking your own rule, teaches them that your boundary doesn’t apply to them. You have to follow through if you want them to take you seriously.

In addition to doing what you say, be sure that you are asking for what you really need.

It’s not enough to tell your sex addiction husband, “if you want to save this marriage, you have to get counseling.”

I have, repeatedly seen men “do their time” in a counselor’s office, but never really work on anything. They complied, but nothing changed. They can’t figure out why their wife still isn’t happy when they did exactly what she requested.

The wife didn’t want him to get acquainted with a counselor. What she REALLY wanted was for him to stop using porn and start showing her more respect. Be sure your boundary clearly states the result you are looking for, whether it is no non-business interruptions at work, or your husband to find a way to end his addiction and rejoin the family.

The more you are able to get in touch with your core values, the better your boundaries will serve you and the easier they will be to communicate.


I can almost hear some of you loudly exclaiming, “but you don’t know the person I’m up against. They’re a different animal. This will never work with them.”

In the next post, we’ll be looking at some “special” cases as we explore the unique challenges of trying to set boundaries with addicts, narcissists, and other “tough nuts”.


“Declare these things, exort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” — Titus 21:15


TODAY’S CHAT: What is your biggest worry about trying to establish stronger, more defined boundaries? If you share it in the comments below, we’ll try to address your concern in one of the remaining blogs of this series.

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