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How to Set Boundaries Without Hurting People

·595 words·3 mins
Advice Friend Relationships

Have you written anything about how to set boundaries without hurting people? I struggle with worrying that I’m going to hurt people when I set boundaries, so I keep it to myself until it starts to hurt *me.*


I want to start off this article by being very clear about one thing: No matter what you do, you can’t guarantee that when you set a boundary, your decision to do so won’t hurt the other person.

We don’t get to control how people feel about what we do. With any luck, we can influence their reaction, but that only goes so far.

And after spending many years as a recovering people pleaser, I’ve come to believe that your primary goal when you set a boundary shouldn’t be to not hurt the other person; it should be to be as clear as you can about your expectations.

And once you have done that, then the other person gets to choose how they respond to that.

But I do understand where you’re coming from. I remember being terrified of hurting other people myself when I was new to boundary-setting.

Then I learned something very important: We only really get to know people when we don’t give them what they want. People tend to all look alike so long as you’re giving them what they want. Setting boundaries reveals people’s true natures. Typically, people who are mature and care about you can deal with being told no or you setting some kind of boundary with them.

So as disappointing as it can be if you have someone flip out on you for setting a boundary, that’s important, valuable information. Losing someone like that is actually a gain.

Bear in Mind that You WILL Feel Mean the First Time You Set a Boundary

The reality is that when you first start setting boundaries, you will feel a little mean. You will feel like you’re shouting at people. I did — even though I wasn’t. This is normal. It happens to every recovering people pleaser. That feeling goes away with time and practice.

Practical Tips for Setting Boundaries

There are no magic words and no universal script I can give you that is going to work on everyone.

I’ve generally found that people who have trouble setting boundaries tend to be sweeties who tend to say things kindly and gently anyway.

So the big hurdle is just getting past the worry that it’s mean to set boundaries and actually doing it.

But here are a few things that really help:

  • Stay firm and confident if you say no.
  • Don’t offer explanations for your no. You don’t need to.
  • Be direct and clear.
  • Be specific.
  • Try to have the boundary talk at a time when you can both focus on it. (Don’t just blurt it out.)
  • Let go of what the other person is going to think of you. Yes, this is paradoxical, but the more you worry about being mean, the less likely you are to be clear and direct.
  • Don’t apologize for setting the boundary. You aren’t doing anything wrong.


In any event, reader, you are quite correct. You might risk hurting another person when you set a boundary. But when you don’t set boundaries with other people, you guarantee that YOU will get hurt.


For more reframes and tools to maintain healthy relationships of all kinds, please see Dealing with Difficult Metamours, a guide to troubleshooting challenging polyamorous dynamics as well as guidance on how to not create them in the first place.


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