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When do I tell others about my boundaries?

Boundaries can come in many forms.

The most important thing to remember is that boundaries are about what we do and not about controlling or managing others. 

Internal Boundaries

Some boundaries may be internal, meaning these are decisions we make for ourselves without needing to tell another person.

When to Use Internal Boundaries:

  • When the boundary is about managing your own time or energy.

  • When you can address the situation without involving others.


  • Deciding to leave a social event early.

  • Using noise-canceling headphones in a loud environment.


  • Brainstorm what needs are not being met and how to meet them.

  • Reflect, alone or with others, on how the internal boundary worked and what could have been changed.

Telling Others About Your Boundaries

There are times when you may need to inform others of our boundaries. This is not about asking permission, but about letting people know. In this case you are still responsible for maintaining the boundary. 

When to Explain Your Boundaries:

  • When others need to understand your needs to respect them.

  • When the boundary impacts your interactions with others.


  • Explaining to coworkers that you need a quiet space to work.

  • Telling friends you need time alone to recharge.


  • Use “I” statements to explain your needs.

  • Be clear and concise about the boundary.

Negotiated Boundaries

Sometimes boundaries involve another person and need to be negotiated. You can still honor your own needs and be open to the needs of the other person at the same time. 

When to Involve Others in Negotiating Boundaries:

  • When the boundary affects both you and another person.

  • When flexibility and compromise are possible.


  • Working out a schedule with a roommate for quiet hours.

  • Discussing with a friend how often you can hang out.


  • Communicate openly and listen to the other person’s perspective.

  • Find a solution that respects both parties’ needs.


Requests are a way to let others know what you need and to ask for that need to be met. This is different from a demand in the sense that it involves accepting that the person may not follow your request. If that happens you can decide what you need to do to take care of yourself, either through internal boundaries, negotiations, or firm and clear boundaries. 

When to Make a Request:

  • When the other person isn’t aware of your needs and wants. 

  • When you want to ask someone else for something (while understanding that they may or may not do it).


  • Asking a coworker to lower their voice during calls.

  • Requesting that family members text before calling.


  • Clearly and kindly state your request and why it is important.

  • Accept that the other person may or may not follow the request. If they do not follow the request, decide if an internal boundary is needed or a firm and clear boundary. 

Firm and Clear Boundaries

The type of firm and clear boundaries I describe here is often not the first step needed in establishing a boundary unless the situation is dire. These can be used as a follow up to other forms of boundaries or requests. Even though you cannot control how someone else acts, you can decide how you would like to respond.

When Firm and Clear Boundaries are Needed:

  • When the boundary is non-negotiable for your well-being or safety.

  • When previous attempts to set the boundary have been ignored.


  • Telling someone to stop touching you without permission.

  • Telling someone to stop making fun of you.


  • Use direct language about what you will do if the action happens again.

  • Be prepared to follow through if the boundary is not respected.

Following Up on Firm and Clear Boundaries

When your firm and clear boundary is crossed:

  • Restate the boundary and the consequence clearly.

  • Example: "You are mocking me even though I asked you not to. I am going to leave now."


  • Follow through on the consequence if the boundary is crossed again.

  • Ensure you protect your well-being by removing yourself from the situation if necessary.

If you suspect you might be in an abusive situation, reach out to professional help.

Questions to Help Decide

Is this boundary primarily about my own actions or self-care?

  • If yes, it may be an internal boundary.

Do others need to understand this boundary to respect it?

  • If yes, consider telling others about your boundary.

Can you find a middle ground that works for both parties?

  • If yes, a negotiated boundary might be helpful.

Do I want to ask for something?

  • If yes, start with a request.

Is this boundary crucial for my well-being or safety?

  • If yes, set firm and clear boundaries.

Other resources:

Set Boundaries Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab

Conflict is Not Abuse by Sarah Schulman

Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson

Polysecure by Jessica Fern

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