Weak boundaries lead you to care for everyone except yourself. Working toward setting healthy limits may help improve your relationships.

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Boundaries are the limits of what you deem acceptable and unacceptable in your life for your well-being. When setting limits with others, you can calmly and assertively state what you will and won’t tolerate by enforcing your boundaries.

If you don’t know what healthy boundaries look like, it can be hard to set and reinforce them. If your family never modeled this for you it can be challenging to know what’s too loose or too rigid.

Many times folks’ first exploration of boundary-setting occurs within the family system. If your family system is dysfunctional, you may have very unhealthy boundaries. Unenforceable boundaries can be either rigid or porous.

Learning about healthy boundaries can help improve your relationship with yourself and others.

If you have porous boundaries, you may sacrifice your needs to make others happy. Newer research indicates that the founder of structural family therapy, Salvador Minuchin, introduced the concept of porous boundaries in the 1970s.

Individuals with lax boundaries often have difficulty saying “no” to others and may have trouble speaking up for their wants and desires to avoid disappointing other people. Folks with weak boundaries may also be emotional when faced with criticism.

Porous boundaries are the opposite of rigid boundaries. You may become enmeshed in other people’s endeavors and mutually overshare information and burdens.

It may be difficult to distinguish your emotions from another person’s. If you have porous boundaries, you may regret your overinvolvement with others and find that others often manipulate you.

If you recognize porous boundaries, you may consider working to establish healthier limits within your relationships.

Healthy boundaries are much different from porous boundaries. Having healthy boundaries allows you to separate yourself from others and take care of yourself in a way that doesn’t make you feel burned out.

Healthy boundary

  • “I can’t attend dinner tonight, as I have other matters to tend to.”
  • “I have work to do this weekend, so I’m sorry I can’t help you move.”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that situation with you.”
  • “I don’t like it when you yell. If you continue to yell at me, I’m leaving.”
  • “I would rather watch another movie, so I’m not going to the theater. I hope you have fun!”

Porous boundary

  • “Of course, I’ll go to dinner tonight — it’s not like I had other things to do anyway.”
  • “My back has been hurting but I’ll help you move. You know I’d do anything to help you out.”
  • “I’ll tell you what happened later this evening.”
  • “I understand you’re angry — I deserve this.”
  • “I don’t want to watch this movie, but I’ll go anyway.”

If you notice that you have porous boundaries, here are some ways you can work to establish healthier limits with others.

Try mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness is about attention to the here and now. When you tune into what you’re feeling and thinking, this can help guide your behavior.

Mindfulness is accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment. When you have porous boundaries, it’s hard to be mindful because you might be so focused on other people.

Research from 2020 indicates that regular mindfulness practice can help foster self-awareness, which is a step toward setting healthy boundaries.

Know your limits

If you have a habit of saying yes to everything someone else asks you to do and then feel overwhelmed later, you may work on learning your limitations. Knowing your limits helps you establish healthy boundaries.

Here are some questions you may ask yourself regarding your limits:

  • Do I have time and energy for this?
  • Do I want to spend money on this, or could it better be used for something else?
  • Am I OK with allowing this person into my space?
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If the answer is no to any of the above, it may be time to set limits.

Explore your interests

If you spend so much time with other people that they have become your focus, it’s probably time to explore your interests. If you’re engaging in activities you don’t like nor want to do just because someone else does, it may be time to say no to others and yes to yourself.

Exploring your interests helps you take care of yourself and prioritize what you deem important.

Here are some resources to reacquaint you, with you and your values:

In addition, engaging in hobbies and social activities can help improve your overall well-being.

Be assertive and direct

When trying to set better boundaries, being assertive and direct helps convey your message respectfully. When being straightforward, you can clearly state what you need and politely decline, if need be.

To practice assertiveness, you may try using “I statements.” When you practice I statements, it allows the other person to receive your message without automatically putting them on the defensive. Healthy communication during boundary-setting leaves little room for misinterpretation.

You may find this article on why the ‘guilt trip’ comes naturally (but can be problematic) insightful if folks continue to try to get you to loosen your boundaries.

Porous boundaries are unrestrictive and can involve oversharing and overinvolvement with others. If you have porous boundaries, it may stem from your family system. You can work toward healthier boundaries where you’re taking care of yourself.

Practicing self-care and mindfulness are two places to start forming healthier boundaries. Remember, just because you may have been raised with porous boundaries — or have them now — doesn’t mean you can’t change them. Anybody can learn how to set healthier limits with people.