Dear Friend,

From a boss who yells, to friends who take advantage of your generosity, it seems some people have no problem stepping over the line–stressing you out in the process. But you don’t have to put up with it. Destressing your life by setting boundaries is a decision you can make today.

Are you one of the many people who have constant problems with a friend, family member, or co-worker who invades your personal space and makes requests that make you uncomfortable? Why is that some people have no problem setting boundaries while others feel obligated to go along in order to keep the peace? If you feel like a magnet for individuals who “use and abuse” your good-hearted nature, it is first important to understand why they may be so out of control. For many, it is because they have never learned to effectively set personal boundaries. They grew up in households where there were few, if any, boundaries. As a result, they are often unaware that their behavior is not acceptable by your standards. Of course, just because they have not learned to set and respect boundaries doesn’t mean you have to accept their behavior. The more you practice setting and protecting your boundaries, the easier it will become.

So how do you deal with people whose behavior has no boundaries?

Clearly establish your boundaries. For example, constructive criticism may be acceptable to you, but having the same information yelled at you or communicated in a belittling way probably isn’t acceptable. If loaning money to friends or family members makes you uncomfortable, set a boundary to stop playing the role of banker. Perhaps it’s late night phone calls that bug you – you’ve told people you like to go to bed early, but they call you anyway because it is convenient for them. Just because the phone rings after you’ve gone to bed, doesn’t mean you have to answer–not answering sends the message that you will return calls when the time is convenient for you!

Let people know when they have stepped over a boundary. For example, you might say “Do you realize that you are yelling at me?” or “I don’t lend money to my friends. It tends to lead to problems.” The key to being successful with this strategy is to maintain a calm and non-critical tone. You can say just about anything if you say it in the right way! Practice maintaining a calm, pleasant, and straightforward tone when you speak to people about your boundaries.

If the behavior continues, ask the person to stop. If needed, insist they stop. As a last resort, be willing to distance yourself or end a friendship if it is necessary. People who respect you will honor your boundaries. Is it worth it to you to maintain a friendship that drains your energy, stresses you out and dishonors you? You must weigh the situation and make the best decision for you.

The process of protecting your boundaries becomes even more sticky when the person stepping over your boundaries is your boss. “It’s easy,” you might say, “to set boundaries when my job isn’t at stake.” Of course, discrimination and harassment at work are criminal offenses–if your boss doesn’t understand and respect your boundaries, seek assistance from a higher authority. Often, however, the requests are not criminal, but may indeed step over your boundaries. Continual or last-minute expectations of working late or on weekends, at the expense of your personal plans or vacation time, may constitute a boundary you don’t like crossed. A boss who prods into your personal business may be a boundary that you don’t want crossed. Calling you often at home or on your personal time to ask work-related questions may cross your boundary. Whatever boundaries you set, decide which ones are worth protecting and which ones you are willing to bend. Then, devise a strategy for an open conversation.

For example, if your boss calls you on your personal time regularly, you might sit down with her and ask how you can develop a working relationship that would help her get everything she needs before you leave each day. Perhaps a five-minute, end-of-day wrap up conversation would get her all of the information she needs. Explain that you understand that she may sometimes have questions after hours, but your personal time is really important to your quality of life. You want to do a great job without working 24-7. Remember, you can say just about anything to anyone if you master the art of saying it nicely.

We teach others about how we wanted to be treated when we set and protect our boundaries. Those who learn and respect those boundaries will be the people you trust and the people who enhance and enrich your life.

Until next time,

Valorie Burton is an author of eight books, including   her   latest,  Your 5 Minute Personal Coach. She is founder   of the  Coaching  and Positive  Psychology  (CaPP) Institute and a  regular  contributor for  CNN’s Reclaim Your   Career  segment. Subscribe  to her free e-newsletter at


More from Beliefnet and our partners