What are boundaries? And why do other people hate yours so much?

Establishing and upholding boundaries are the cornerstones of maintaining healthy relationships and self-respect, and are fundamental for optimising good mental health.


They can be asserted within your everyday interactions with strangers, such as “Please don’t touch my hair/food/body again without asking”, or results of ongoing challenging behaviour from people you do know, such as “Please don’t turn up unannounced to the house” etc. A large part of my sessions include teaching my clients how to recognise where their own boundaries lie, and how to maintain that line with others. Then it’s very much about finding your voice and trusting that you have a right to use it.

Let’s explore the concept of boundaries; what they are, how to assert them confidently, and why initial resistance from others should not deter us.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are the invisible lines that define the limits of acceptable behaviour in all relationships - personal, professional, parental, familial - and really, all interactions with others. They serve as guidelines for how we interact with others and how we allow them to interact with us. Boundaries can encompass physical, emotional, and psychological aspects, dictating what we are willing to tolerate and what crosses the line, but defining and upholding your own boundaries takes time, practice, and more often than not, specialised advice and support from a trained professional.

When we assert our boundaries to others, especially for the first time, it is extremely common to encounter resistance or pushback. This resistance may stem from various factors, including:

1. Fear of change

People may resist our boundaries because they are accustomed to certain patterns of behaviour and are uncomfortable with change.

2. Personal insecurities

Others' insecurities or feelings of inadequacy may lead them to react negatively when confronted with our boundaries.

3. Lack of understanding

Some individuals may not fully understand the concept of boundaries or may have different interpretations of what is acceptable behaviour.

4. Power dynamics

In certain relationships or situations where there is a power imbalance, asserting boundaries can be perceived as a threat to the status quo, leading to resistance.

5. Boundary violation

People who have previously disregarded our boundaries may react defensively when we assert them, feeling challenged or criticised.

Paradoxically, when others react negatively to our boundaries, it is important to recognise that their initial resistance is due to their own issues - many of which we outlined above - and does not invalidate their importance; on the contrary, it can be a sign that your voice has been heard and your boundaries are working. Setting and asserting boundaries is an act of self-care and self-respect, signifying that we value ourselves enough to start actively prioritising our own needs and well-being, and reminding us not to compromise our self-respect for the sake of others' comfort.

Asserting your boundaries: A step-by-step guide

When you have effectively established how to recognise where and when you feel uncomfortable with certain behaviour from others - within my coaching sessions this is often done by simply repeatedly practising naming how you are feeling when confronted with challenging behaviour - then you can begin to voice that information. Assertiveness is key to establishing and maintaining boundaries effectively (Alberti & Emmons, 2008), involving expressing our needs, desires, and limits in a clear and respectful manner. Practicing assertiveness allows us to communicate our boundaries confidently, without fear of being misunderstood, ignored or taken advantage of.

So here is my step-by-step guide. It is always the hope that by incorporating the following techniques, over time you will be able to name and assert your own boundaries calmly, effectively and respectfully in some, and eventually most, challenging interpersonal situations:

1. Direct communication

Clearly and assertively communicate your boundaries using "I" statements. For example, "I need to take a break now" or "I'm not comfortable with the way you spoke to me".

2. Body language

Use assertive body language, such as maintaining eye contact, standing or sitting upright, and using appropriate gestures to convey confidence and determination (Galinsky, 2017).

3. Firmness

Be firm and consistent in asserting your boundaries, don't apologise or overly explain yourself (Smith et al., 2008).

4. Self-advocacy

Advocate for your needs and rights, highlighting that you have the right to set and maintain boundaries (Maniacci, 2019).

5. Active listening

Listen attentively to the other person's response while maintaining your stance, showing respect for their perspective while still upholding your boundaries (Gordon, 2012).

6. Negotiation

If necessary, negotiate compromises that respect both parties' boundaries (Yeager et al., 2018).

7. Self-compassion

Recognise that setting boundaries is essential for your well-being and self-care and that you are not being ‘confrontational’, or ‘hard work’, or any of the things the person you are asserting to may call you, but simply and honestly practising self-compassion (Neff, 2003).

8. Repetition

Feel free to repeat the boundary if you feel it has not yet been heard. For some
people this could mean repeating yourself within the same conversation, for others, it might take years of repeating the boundary until the other person knows that you are serious about it and that it will not change.

In conclusion, boundaries are essential for maintaining healthy relationships, self-esteem and good mental health, and while initial resistance from others may occur, it should be viewed as a testament to the effectiveness of your boundary-setting rather than a reason to doubt it. Regardless of others' opinions, prioritising our own well-being and self-respect is paramount, and will ultimately educate by example those who are often the biggest resistors.

By stating how another person or situation has made us feel, and by practising assertiveness and confidence, over time we can master establishing and upholding boundaries in the most important area of our lives to us personally; who we are.


Hawkins, P. (2016). *Developing Thinking; Developing Learning*. Routledge.

Knapp, H. (2020). *The Communication Cycle: Key to Understanding Interpersonal Communication*. Routledge.

Alberti, R. E., & Emmons, M. L. (2008). *Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships*. New Harbinger Publications.

Galinsky, A. D. (2017). The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter. Simon and Schuster.

Smith, J. L., Fondacaro, K. M., & Britton, P. J. (2008). Communicating Assertively. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, 5(1-2), 173-201.

Maniacci, M. P. (2019). The Complexity of Assertiveness: A Clinical Illustration and Critique of Research and Practice. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 49(2), 111-118.

Gordon, T. (2012). Leader Effectiveness Training: L.E.T. Three Rivers Press.

Yeager, D. S., Dahl, R. E., & Dweck, C. S. (2018). Why Interventions to Influence Adolescent Behavior Often Fail but Could Succeed. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), 101–122.

Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.

McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2009). *Messages: The Communication Skills Book*. New Harbinger Publications.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, EC1V
Written by Ali Coco Epps, DipLC, MAC, MEMCC
London, EC1V

Ali Coco Epps is a Therapeutic Life Coach and author working between London and Ibiza, with clients throughout the world. She is a pioneer of hiking coaching and comes very highly recommended. She is known as The Real Life Coach.

Book your first free session via her profile, or on itsthereallifecoach.com, or on instagram @itsthereallifecoach

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