Setting Healthy Limits

Setting heathy limits is an essential way to protect and define yourself and let others know what your personal boundaries are.


If we all grew up in healthy families we would have had models for how to set healthy boundaries with our spouse, children and others. So, what do healthy boundaries look like in personal relationships?

It is the ability to say what you want or don’t want. The ability to say, “No” when you mean “No” and not feel guilty about saying it.

Especially if the “No” is to protect yourself and your needs.  Most people lacked heathy models of adult behavior in their childhoods. Most didn’t have parents who modeled taking care of themselves, having emotionally supportive friendships and took good care of themselves. It is healthy to set limits on doing for others unless they cannot do things for themselves, as can be the case with children.

In many families we are trained to think only of what others need and seldom about what we need. Also speaking up for those wants or needs and saying “no to others is considered being selfish. It is important to let others know that your “yes” means “yes” and that “no’ means “no.” It becomes less of a guessing game and the relationship gains a clarity and integrity when the no’s mean exactly that.

By modeling healthy limits children feel safe in their family. Kids learn by observation and will later act out what they have learned. If parents model setting” clear rules such as no desert until after dinner a clear “no” tell them they are not in charge. They feel safe knowing that they have tested the boundaries and their desires were not yielded to, so they know the adults are in charge. Of course, there are times it is OK to give them what they want but they will test to find out who is running the show. It is not good to be “the fun parent” as that makes for happy kids in the moment and ones that don’t know the limits of their own power and autonomy.

Other healthy limits are internal. You set by saying “no” to some of your own desires that may not be good for you. Saying “no” to a rich dessert or saying “yes” to going to the gym are ways to stay healthy and be balanced. In part working with addictions involves saying “no” to acting out the addiction and saying “yes” to getting the help you need.

In addition, healthy internal limits can be exercised by delaying gratification. Kids benefit by learning that delaying gratification pays off in having Halloween candy that is still there a month after the holiday. And kids who have learned to put off their immediate wants have been shown to prosper in their adult years. As they delay the gratification of spending say their money they learn that the accumulation of interest in their bank accounts benefits them greatly.

Brene Brown, the lecturer and author said in one of her Ted Talks that she is a less sweet person now that she has clear boundaries. At the same time those who are close to her know that her “yes” really means “yes” and her “no” really means “no”. There is a closeness and trust that comes from having clear and healthy boundaries with the people in your life. It is empowering and satisfying to set those limits and oversee your own destiny.

Click here to read more about Counseling for Women