What is a boundary?

By Rebecca Johnson, MS, LMHC

If you have worked with me in a counseling setting, you know that I am a strong advocate of boundaries.  Boundaries with toxic people.  Boundaries for self-care.  Boundaries to create balance.  Many clients have asked me, “what are boundaries?” I think the best way to define boundaries is explaining it like a fence around your own yard. What exists within that fence, or your yard, is what identifies YOU…

Who you are.

What is important to you.

What you value most.

What you believe, need, or feel.


This fence is like a property line around your home.  This fence (or boundary) defines what is your property and what is not your property. It defines what is your responsibility and what is not your responsibility. A boundary stops you from doing things for others that they should do for themselves.

How do you protect and care for these things in your yard? A big part of caring and protecting what is in your yard is not allowing dangerous or toxic individuals within that space.  A boundary shows me (and you) where I end and where someone else begins. It also prevents you from rescuing someone from the consequences of their destructive behavior.

Caring for your needs, beliefs, and values is “self-care,” the boundary we most often let deteriorate.  Those things within your yard are precious and having healthy boundaries includes you paying attention to your needs and most valuable relationships.

Boundaries also create balance.  It is about taking responsibility for our own lives and allowing others to live theirs.  The ultimate outcome of good boundaries is equilibrium and stability.  If there is an area in your life that feels somewhat out of control ask yourself, “how can I create some boundaries with this?”

Toxic and manipulative people do not like boundaries.  In their world, limitations and restrictions do not exist.  Healthy boundaries are a set of limits regarding your physical and emotional well-being.  Trust me, you are worth others respecting and honoring your physical and emotional well-being.  

Not sure what it looks like when someone is ignoring your boundaries? If you feel like you are being smothered or that your relationship is enmeshed (you must do everything together, think, act and feel in the same way) most likely your boundaries are being disregarded.  If you feel like the other person responds to your boundary by being volatile, cold, distant, or the opposite, they infiltrate every aspect of your life, it is a sure thing that they do not respect your boundaries.

This is your opportunity to take power over what you do have power over – YOURSELF!

For more information on healthy boundaries and how to create them read the book, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  This book was instrumental in my own growth and I recommend it often for clients.  If you find yourself in a toxic relationship where all of what you have just read feels undesirably familiar, I’d be happy to talk with you about how to recognize unhealthy boundaries as well as how to establish healthy boundaries.  


Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. S. (2017). Boundaries: when to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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