Signs You Need Better Boundaries + How To Set Them

February 25, 2021

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I'm Carly - an MD Psychotherapist specializing in women's mental health. I help women feel like themselves again.

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Setting healthy boundaries in unhealthy relationships can be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to improving your own mental health.

However, unhealthy relationships or being treated poorly by those you love is also one of the biggest causes of poor mental health.

If you are wondering if you need better boundaries in the relationships in your life, this post is for you.

Setting healthy boundaries can be very stressful, and it can be helpful to have some instructions on exactly what to do. Therefore, I will also share my step-by-step process that you can use to create healthier boundaries in your own life.

This post is Part 2 of a mini-series on boundaries. In part 1, I defined what boundaries are, the different types of boundaries that exist and a critical mindset shift you need to make in order to set healthy boundaries in your life. If you haven’t yet read (or listened) to part 1 of this series, you can find it here.

Signs You Need Better Boundaries in Your Life

You likely need healthier boundaries in your life if you feel:

  • A deep need to help people feel better, or that you are responsible for the happiness of others;
  • “Bad” when you take time for yourself (if you ever do) because you believe that you should be available to everyone all the time (including your kids);
  • Tons of guilt if you cannot help someone with something, even if the reason you can’t help is very legitimate
  • Terrified advocating for yourself or stating your own needs + desires;
  • Like you can’t say no. You have “obligatory-yes” syndrome and can’t say no to anyone about anything;
  • Resentful towards others. You may feel like you give to others all day and get nothing in return;
  • Like the emotional-dumping ground of others. You find yourself on the phone or listening to others vent constantly, only to find yourself feeling drained and unsupported by them;
  • Unappreciated or taken advantage of. 


Signs A Relationship Needs Healthier Boundaries

  • You find yourself doing things that are not in alignment with your values when you are with this person (ie. gossiping, drinking alcohol, etc.);
  • It often feels like someone is trying to change you, control your life or solve your problems (or you are feeling this way towards others);
  • When you do set healthy boundaries, they seem to forget, need constant reminding or simply ignore your boundaries entirely;
  • Even when something good happens for you, this person seems unable to celebrate or be happy for you;
  • You fear disagreeing with someone because you know they will “freak out” and treat you badly, give you the silent treatment or shame you;
  • Someone doesn’t take no for an answer and continually asks you for something even though you have clearly stated you’re unavailable or unwilling;
  • You constantly sacrifice what you want or need for the other person to be happy or get what they need;
  • The relationship feels very unequal (in emotional energy, time, resources, etc.);
  • Another person uses shame or ridicule to ensure you remain passive and meet their needs, while seemingly ignoring that you even have needs;
  • Someone uses their emotions to manipulate you or uses the relationship as a threat: “If you loved me, you would do X,” or “I’m just trying to help you,”


Setting Boundaries Using the Good News + Bad News Criteria

The Good News and Bad News Criteria are a framework I use for setting information boundaries.

It’s helpful in defining who in your life gets to know what about your life.

It helps you determine who should know about the good news and the bad news in your life and it answers the question of “should I tell this person this news?”  



The Good News Criteria 

Think about the people in your life that when something good happens to you they are just genuinely so thrilled for you.

They say kind and supportive things like, “That is so amazing, you’ve worked so hard for that and deserve it!” 

Not only do they say kind things, you feel like they genuinely mean it and walk away from the conversation feeling good.

These people are the people who meet The Good News Criteria! Meaning it is safe to share your good news with them! 

On the other hand, think of the people in your life that when you share something good in your life, they have a backhanded comment.

All of the sudden, you may feel like you need to shrink your good news, or minimize it make others feel better.

They may say things like, “Good things always happen for you,” or “Oh that must be nice.”

These are the people who need a better information boundary and they don’t meet the Good News Criteria.

This is someone who doesn’t and shouldn’t have access to the good and exciting things in your life, because they take something you’re happy about and trample it. They also struggle to be genuinely happy for you when you have good news to share.


The Bad News Criteria 

The Bad News Criteria is way to decide who you share the things you’re not so proud of in your life, like your greatest insecurities, mess-ups or parts of your life you’re a bit ashamed of.

Think of the people in your life who know your insecurities and who protect this information and you. They’re sensitive around it, and help protect you when the topic comes up. They do healthy and helpful thing to protect you from it. These people are a safe place to share bad news with.

On the flip side, ask yourself if there are people who take sensitive information about you and exploit it and use it against you. These are people that you don’t and shouldn’t share sensitive information with, people who need a stronger information boundary.


How to Set Boundaries: Step-by-Step

Setting boundaries is scary and can be uncomfortable. It can also be overwhelming to think about, so I’m going to break it down into 4 main parts.

Setting boundaries in relationships involves: 


1. Identifying the relationship that needs a better boundary. 

In order to set a new boundary in a relationship, you have to identify that the relationship needs a better boundary + why.


2. Deciding what the boundary will be. 

You then need to decide what specific behaviour or exchange that you want to set a boundary around.

Remember: you only have control over your own behaviour and not the behaviour of others.

Ask yourself, what can I control in this situation to set my boundary?

For example, if you don’t like how your mother in law talks to you at Sunday dinners, you can choose to be assertive and ask for better treatment.

You cannot actually stop her from talking to you in a certain way, but you can ask she changes her behaviour and then stop attending dinner if she doesn’t change.


3. Assertively placing the boundary. 

Clearly and assertively express your boundary. PRO TIP: Use the word “boundary.”


4. Maintaining the boundary. 

Uphold the boundary like your life depends on it. If we are wishy-washy about our boundaries, people don’t take our boundaries seriously.

We also must expect that when we set boundaries, people won’t like it. They will try to challenge or push your boundaries.

They may (read: likely will) get angry, perhaps give you the “silent treatment” or act out in other ways. This is to be expected when you begin to set boundaries in unhealthy relationships and is a sign you are doing the right thing.


Remember, the only people who get angry about you setting boundaries are the ones who benefit from you having none.


Common problems you’ll experience when you start to set boundaries:


1. People aren’t going to like it. 

The reality is that most people like the people in their life exactly as they are and to be predictable. Most people when you put up a boundary will struggle against it and may even get angry.

The important thing in this situation is to realize that them being angry doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong.

I love the quote, “The only people who get angry about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you not having them.” I think this is a very important thing to remember – if someone is getting upset about your boundaries, you’re doing the exact right thing. 


2. Your boundaries won’t be followed right away. 

It’s human nature to challenge boundaries. 

I liken this to when you get on a roller coaster and the overhead restraint comes down to hold you in. Every single person pushes back on the rstraint to make sure that it will hold them in – we test it.

This is similar to how many people respond to a new boundary. They push and test to see if it is really solid, if it will really be maintained. This is when you really need to stick to your boundaries and the consequences.


3. People will think that “something is wrong with you” or that you’re mad at them. 

If you’ve lacked boundaries in the past and have historically been quite passive, people around you might think that you’re mad at them when you begin to be more assertive.

While you are not required to, it can be helpful to reiterate that you are in fact not mad at them, but that you’re setting a boundary because you value their relationship. Set your boundary in a clear and supportive way.

Sometimes these conversations get heated and that’s ok. You are not responsible to reassure someone that you’re not angry, or help them navigate their reaction to your boundary setting. 


Guidelines For Boundary Setting

Only set boundaries that you are willing and able to defend. If you make threats that you can’t keep (“I’ll quit this job, leave you, ground you for a year, never speak to you again, etc.”). People will not take your attempts to set boundaries seriously. 

Don’t start setting boundaries haphazardly when you are strained to the limit. You won’t be affective in setting the boundary and the relationship will get even tougher for a little while. Pick a time when you have the strength and resources to handle the pressure.

Don’t back down! It’s really hard not to back down, but pick something you can uphold and uphold it! Otherwise you’re showing the person that you can’t uphold it and they’ll push harder the next time.

Don’t over-explain. Chose what you’re going to say, say it and then leave it. You’re not responsible for their response or feelings. You’re not required to give an explanation to anyone for anything. 

Don’t start setting boundaries with everyone in your life at once. You can do one or two strategies. Pick the hardest relationship in your life and “eat the frog.” Or start small with relationships that aren’t as close to you. Whatever strategy you choose it’s important to do the work and to start the process of setting boundaries.



If you also want to release all that control and perfectionism out of your mind, I invite you to download my 10-Minute Meditation for Releasing Perfectionism. It is a free audio meditation, and you can listen to it whenever, wherever, and however you like. Download it here!




  • Signs you may need better boundaries in your life
  • How to use the Good News and Bad News Criteria to determine who should know what about your life
  • How to set boundaries, step-by-step
  • What to expect when you start to set more boundaries in your life

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