The Montfort Group

Setting Boundaries

Alright, everyone, we’ve gone rogue. In this series, we have turned our current self-care culture upside down and shaken out the band-aids, the over-indulgence, and the avoidance. We have acknowledged that a spa day can be the best self-care for some, but if it drains your wallet and makes you feel guilty, well, there might be a core issue worth addressing instead, setting boundaries. We have agreed to be more assertive and take a stand in our own lives. We have committed to paying attention to our feelings and needs. We have decided that self-care can change over time.

We have discussed the why, but I’d like to really break down the how. Therapy is complex, and clients come in for a variety of concerns. If there is one topic therapy conversations tend to circle back to, however, it’s this one: setting boundaries. How do I set a boundary? From young teens to older adults, boundaries often represent our greatest relationship struggle.

My friends treat me horribly. How do I say no to them?

I feel like my boss walks all over me.

Am I really his doormat?

I want to ask for help, but I don’t even know how.

I feel like they just expect me to do everything.

What does this have to do with self-care? Like assertive communication, boundary-setting is key to self-care. It often involves relationships with others (think politely asking your mom to back off your parenting), but it can also involve setting boundaries with ourselves (Hey, who are you calling a workaholic!?) Also, much like assertive communication, boundary-setting is something I have to work on daily.

 Setting Boundaries

Firstly, I want to say that setting boundaries is hard. The boundaries have served some purpose for us, but when we need them to change it also means that the purpose they once served has changed. I remember a friendship I had during the peak of my early-twenties insecurity. My friend was pushy and manipulative, but there was so much I admired about her and so much I resented about myself. While I felt lost, adrift among friends who were “hardcore adulting”, she seemed to have all the answers. She was stylish where I felt awkward. She was vocal where I felt timid. I was constantly available to her, but she was there for me at her convenience. We were on a roller coaster together, but she got to choose the ups and downs.

My life changed, and my relationship needed change too. I found a career-path I loved and I reconnected with a group of friends I missed. As my self-confidence and self-compassion grew, my tolerance for the way she treated me diminished. I realized that I felt unhappy and anxious when I was around her. I tried to salvage the friendship and communicate my needs to her. When she lashed out, realizing that I sought a new type of friendship with her, I finally decided to set a boundary and distance myself from her. It was painful, but it was a necessary step for my mental health.

When I talk to clients about setting boundaries, I often bring up these three steps.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

When it comes to a toxic or distant relationship, our authentic feelings are often the first to be ignored. Do you feel lonely and disconnected from others? Do you feel anxious and stressed about the relationship? Do you feel a sense of relief when they call, or do you feel an urge to ignore them? Whether you journal about it, sing about it in the shower, or vent about it in the car during your commute, give these feelings some space. Our feelings provide important data about what we need. Feel them.


Decide what you’re responsible for, and also what you’re not. Do you tend to push others away or play the blame game? Do you take too much responsibility for others? Do you find yourself constantly apologizing or attempting to repair the relationship alone? In this step, you’re considering the actions that may or may not have led to the current boundary or lack thereof. This is about figuring out what you want to own up to and holding others accountable for their responsibility in the relationship.

Communicate Your Needs

This is the toughest step, but the one that leads to the greatest change. Communicating our needs is difficult because it feels like a big risk. We wonder how the other person will react or how the situation might change. The unknown can be terrifying, and this is when many of us back out.

Think about the last time you heard, “Well, have you told (insert name here) you feel this way?” after a lengthy vent session. I don’t know about you, but that’s usually the point where I come up with a million excuses to explain why talking about my feelings to the person who probably matters most would be a terrible idea. Relationships go both ways, and our vulnerable emotions are worth communicating. Have you communicated your needs, or are they bottled up within you?

As someone who has been on the therapy couch as a client, I can say with confidence that therapy opens the door to honest, open communication. Practicing assertive communication and boundary-setting in therapy can pave the way for healthier relationships across your life. We can prepare for tough talks as a team and practice strategies for better communication with our loved ones. How could these three steps transform your boundaries?

Contact The Montfort Group in Plano today to see how we can help you with setting boundaries. 

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