E-Workbook: Boundaries

Personal Boundary Workbook


  1. Objectives of this workbook:


  1. Understanding what boundaries are
  2. Discover what boundary violations are
  3. How to improve your communication about your own boundary needs
  4. How to control your impulses
  5. How to read social, and other cues from what people say and portray in their body language so you respectfully observe others’ boundaries better
  6. Summarize and practice what you’ve learned


  1. Boundary Definition: a region respectfully separating two or more psychological systems (people) or physical spaces.


  1.   Psychological definition of boundaries: Boundaries are decisions that you have made about how you wish to be respected, spoken to and/or treated.  You’ve made these decisions whether you are aware of it or not.  Beginning with when you were young and deciding whether you wanted to share your toys and later your clothes or food in your family of origin. These decisions become rules that you teach others to follow in order to get along well with you.


Other people makes decisions, too, that become rules they want you to respect and follow in order to make them feel good about connecting with you in the future.   Therefore, whether your own or other’s, these rules are designed to influence behavior, words or other choices so that you and others feel honored, validated and respected.  Boundaries represent a clear distinction between right and wrong when it comes to personal connection.  So when you were in school, boundaries were, and still are, guidelines for getting along with the teacher, principal, or other students.  In the culture of your workplace boundaries are about getting along with co-workers and management.  Boundaries are stated or implied, and following them can mean inclusion in the group, and not following them can mean being excluded.  And worse, it can lead to emotional pain and loneliness.


Working on defining your boundaries makes for healthier relationships everywhere you go because in the process of defining your own boundaries you’ll become more sensitive and alert to grasping the nuances of another person’s boundaries when they are revealed.  Boundary sensitivity can be a delicate nuance because if you do not honor others’ boundaries you may find yourself being disrespected or left out the same as if you were overly cautious about respecting another person’s boundaries.


An important aspect of boundary development means honoring, validating and respecting others’ mental or physical space.  Honoring is a form of recognition where you treat others with respect and dignity.  Validating suggests you consider another person valid or of value to you.  It could also be the choices they make or things that they say that you validate.  Respecting is an unconditional way of demonstrating that you hold others in high regard.  It is often assumed that respect must be earned but it is not true.  It is an ingredient that contributes to the definition of being civilized and contributes to a civilized society.  Respect can be in the form of common courtesy such as holding the door open for someone, or in the form of pleasantries like asking how someone feels today.  Tangentally, there are offsprings that can develop from feeling respect for someone such as feeling sympathy or empathy for them, when appropriate.  Say a mother loses her child.  You don’t need to even know this mother in order for you to feel sympathy for her loss.  Respect for her position of motherhood is part of the foundation for your sympathy.


Examples of honoring, validating and respecting might include choosing your words carefully, asking instead of taking, not getting too close to someone physically while speaking to them, or too far away such as shouting to them at a distance.  It can also mean not sitting in someone’s seat or on their coat or hat.  It can mean not talking about others, or being rude, or ridiculing.  A fine example of behavior that our society does not condone is the behavior of a bully.  Why because bullying often means that person intimidates, ridicules, shames, and illuminates another person’s weaknesses, especially in front of others.  So bully’s not only hurt you physically but emotionally as well.


B.  Here are some examples of what honoring, validating and expressing yourself respectfully to someone would sound like (Note that there are few, if any, assumptions in the wording):


  1. Thank you for picking me up from school. (I am honored that you gave me your time and thoughtfulness)
  2. Thank you for sharing your ideas.  I’ll have to ponder them for a while and get back to you.  (I’m validating you for your intelligence or insight)
  3. I’d like to see you again, do you have some time for us to get together? (I’m confirming that I am interested in your friendship and honoring your time by asking you for more of it, as well as validating your worth in my eyes)
  4. I’d like to talk further about this. (Validating that you are someone worth discussing this topic with as well as honoring you by encouraging you to set aside more time for the topic)
  5. Hey, that was fun.  Let’s go there together again some time.  (I’m confirming that I am interested in your friendship and honoring your time by asking you for more of it, as well as validating your worth in my eyes)
  6. I see what you mean. (I validate you by letting you know I understand your point of view.)
  7. You know I think you’re right.  I agree. (I validate and honor you by agreeing and supporting your point of view.)
  8. I can see your point. (I validate you by letting you know I understand your point of view.)
  9. It feels like you’ve put a lot of thought into this. (I validate you by letting you know I appreciate your time.)
  10. Could you say more about what you mean? (I honor you by letting you know I want to understand your point of view.)
  11. I’ve enjoyed listening to your input. (I validate you by letting you know I understand your point of view.  It does not suggest agreement, at least yet.)
  12. You always do such a great job of explaining. (I validate you by letting you know I feel you are a great communicator.)
  13. Can you let me process what you’ve share for a little while before I respond? (I honor your time and validate your efforts by letting you know I want to respectfully give my fullest attention to what you’ve shared.)
  14. Great job! (I validate and honor you for your work.)
  15. When you have a minute I’d like to understand more about what you’re doing.  Could you describe it in more detail for me? (I honor your time and validate your effort by requesting more information)
  16. How can I help? (I honor your effort and validate the reasons for what you’re doing by offering to be of assistance to you)


As these examples show, honoring and/or validating another person is often implied.  Also, when you are not feeling honored and validated it could be because you have not been thanked for your kindnesses. So can you see how showing poor manners could be considered a boundary violation which can influence some people to disrespect you or not include you in the future, as well?


Therefore, understanding when you are not being “honored” or validated is crucial in developing a foundation to understanding how to honor and validate others.  It is important for you to develop appropriate boundaries now if you haven’t already done so.


C. List several topics you frequently feel you are not being honored about by either your significant other, boss, co-workers, children, parents, siblings, friends, pastor or neighbors.


  1. _____________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________

Whom do you feel is responsible for each:


  1. _____________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________



Why do you suppose they do not honor you about this topic:



  1. _____________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________


D.  Your issues can be true for you but not necessarily viewed the same way by others.  This requires some insight and sound communication skills.  But first let’s see how you would resolve your need to have your own boundaries honored.


E.  List here your strategy for resolving those boundary violations you’ve listed in #C above:


  1. _____________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________


  1.   Not feeling honored could lead to depression due to feeling isolated:

Therefore to get the most out of your life learning to respect others’ boundaries is critical to survival.  Developing a happier life where you include others and they include you in their circle is the result of having well defined and healthy boundaries that you help others to understand, as well as being alert to others’ boundaries.


  1. Observe others’ messages about their boundaries (keeps you out of trouble as well as it teaches them to appreciate you and want to therefore respect your boundaries).
  2. Communicate your needs in this way while utilizing nonviolent word choices as well as body language (see Non-Violent Communication, A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg).
  3. Practice tolerance, forgiveness and a non-judgmental (see Mindfulness handout) approach to problem resolution.
  4. Plan and practice showing respect to, and treating others with, dignity.



  1.   An appropriate Boundaries MODEL is one that replaces self-defeating or negligent behaviors. Let’s create one together. 


First let’s look at what may be unhealthy about your current idea of what is acceptable and then we’ll identify the problems you’ve developed and substitute new behaviors with your new insight:


            A. Unhealthy boundaries defined by your Behaviors:

1.  Telling all

  1. Talking intimately at the first few meetings
  2. Falling in love with a new acquaintance
  3. Falling in love with anyone who reaches out
  4. Acting on first sexual impulse
  5. Going against personal values or rights to please other
  6. Not noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
  7. Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
  8. Accepting or allowing food, gifts, touch, that you don’t want
  9. Touching a person without asking
  10. Taking as much as you can get for the sake of getting
  11. Giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving
  12. Allowing someone to take as much from you as they can
  13. Letting others direct your life
  14. Letting others describe your reality
  15. Letting others define you
  16. Believing others can anticipate your needs
  17. Expecting others to fill your needs automatically
  18. Falling apart so someone will take care of you
  19. Self abuse
  20. Living with sexual or physical abuse from another

22. Allow others to touch you even when it is uncomfortable or inappropriate

  1. Physical intimidation
  2. Not allowing (or imposing yourself on) others to have their privacy
  3. Not protecting your own need for privacy
  4. Physical abuse
  5. Allowing your own physical space to be invaded
  6. Over reacting to the feelings and behaviors of others
  7. Personalizing what others are going through
  8. Suggestibility:  allowing others to influence your behavior or choices



  1. Now review list above and circle the ones you are aware that you have a habit of violating.  No shame in this.  Please see this as an opportunity for improving your social skills and for self growth.
  2. List below the behaviors you can substitute for each one above in A1-30 (use other side of paper if needed) ___________________________________________________________





  1. Unhealthy boundaries defined by your Appearance


  1. Stiff body posture
  2. Stoic, “Stone Face”
  3. Uncomfortable being touched
  4. Avoids touching or showing affection to others
  5. Avoids physical closeness
  6. Does not react or has restricted reactions
  7. Very predictable behavior
  8. Does not like being alone, ever


B. Now review the list above and circle the ones you are aware that you have a habit of exhibiting.  No shame in this.  Please see this as an opportunity for improving your social skills and for self growth.

  1. List below the behaviors you can substitute for each one in A1-8 (use other side of paper if needed) ___________________________________________________________





  1. Unhealthy boundaries defined by your Emotional Reactions
  2.  What others Notice about you:


  1. Appears insensitive to the feelings of others
  2. Appears aloof and disinterested
  3. Does not show feelings
  4. Does not talk about feelings
  5. Seems emotionally numb
  6. Attempts to meet needs and wants by themselves


  1. What you Say or Do:


  1. Verbal abuse
  2. Making threats
  3. Assuming you know what someone else feels
  4. Assuming others know what you feel
  5. Expecting others to know you needs and meet them without your guidance
  6. Assuming to know the needs of others
  7. Over-reaction to feelings or behaviors of others
  8. Insisting others tell us how they feel
  9. Not respecting the rights of others
  10. Intolerance to differences in opinion
  11. Dependence on others for my sense of well-being
  12. Inability to ask for help
  13. Personalizing
  14. Need for constant reassurance from others
  15. Going against personal values and morals to please others
  16. Unclear about preferences
  17. Accepting gifts that I don’t want
  18. Making material gifts the measure of another’s caring
  19. Over giving
  20. Frequent advice-giving with expectation that others follow it
  21. Feels everything
  22. Feels the feelings of others
  23. Cannot contain feelings
  24. Over-discloses, tells too much
  25. Is dependent on others for emotional well-being
  26. Gets too close too fast
  27. Feels like a victim
  28. Experiences prolonged resentments
  29. Is overwhelmed and preoccupied with others
  30. Says yes when he/she wants to say no
  31. Feels responsible for the feelings of others
  32. Identity tied to being in an intimate relationship
  33. Overcompensates
  34. Expects others to meet needs
  35. Gives too much
  36. Takes too much
  37. Unable to respect the rights of others


  1. Now review the list above and circle the ones you are aware that you have a habit of violating.  No shame in this.  Please see this as an opportunity for improving your social skills and for self growth.
  2. List below the behaviors you can substitute for each one in A1-16 and B11-37 (use other side of paper if needed)___________________________________________________________












VII.      Unhealthy Sexual Boundaries:


  1. Agreeing to have sex when you really do not want to
  2. Falling in love at first sight
  3. Intimate sharing on first meeting
  4. Using sex as a reward or punishment
  5. Inability to distinguish between love and sex
  6. Manipulating another person through sex
  7. Feeling a need to always be in a sexual relationship
  8. Attaching self-esteem to sexual attraction
  9. Forcing sex on someone who does not want it
  10. Sexually abusing someone else


B.  Now review list above and circle the ones you are aware that you have a habit of violating.  No shame in this.  Please see this as an opportunity for improving your social skills and for becoming more appropriate.

  1. List below the behaviors you can substitute for each one (use other side of paper if needed) ___________________________________________________________



VIII.    Communication:


  1. The book “I’m Ok, You’re Ok written by Thomas Anthony Harris in the 1972 still has profound impact on how we communicate today.  The idea is that there are many ways that we communicate with one another but not all are appropriate.  Here are examples of three main styles.

1.   Parent: “With my authority over you I will tell you what I want from you”

  1. Child:  “With no authority I will mimic my parent and tell you what I want”
  2. Adult: “Respectfulness and dignity are my guiding principles, not authority.  I will ask to get my needs met, using my manners.”


  1. Four Directions Interpersonal Communication Tend to be Implied (see VIII A1-3 above):
  2. I’m Not Ok, You’re Ok
  3. I’m Not OK, You’re Not Ok
  4. I’m Ok, You’re not Ok
  5. I’m Ok, You’re Ok



  1. Verbal language Choices:


How do you feel when you are spoken to disrespectfully, shamefully, or without dignity?




What healthy word choices can you make to improve your reaction when you respond?




How can you choose non-inflammatory words (see the book by Marshall Rosenberg titled “Non-Violent Communication, A Language For Life?”  ________________




How can you improve your reply? ________________________________________




  1. Define the following inflammatory words to further improve your ability to regulate your emotions by expanding your vocabulary and fine-tune your feelings:

anger  _______________________               aggravation ___________________________

agitation _____________________                annoyance  ___________________________

bitterness  ____________________              contempt  _____________________________

cruelty  _______________________             destructiveness ________________________

disgust _______________________             dislike  _______________________________

envy  _________________________            exasperation __________________________

ferocity ________________________           frustration _____________________________

fury  __________________________           grouchiness  __________________________

hate  __________________________           hostility  ______________________________

irritation  _______________________           jealousy  _____________________________

loathing  _______________________            mean-spiritedness  _____________________

outrage  _______________________            rage  ________________________________

resentment  ____________________            revulsion  _____________________________

scorn  _________________________           spite  ________________________________

torment  _______________________            beleaguered___________________________

vengefulness ___________________           wrath  ________________________________


  1. Plot the emotional charge you feel each word represents along the continuum displayed below by writing diagonally outward and above the plot line left to right (from mild emotional charge to intense emotional charge)







Minor  __________________________________________________________________ Volcanic

emotion   0       1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10           eruption



F. Given this statement is true — indicate what your beliefs are on each topic below (– which can cause you to automatically voice a response or react impulsively in an unforeseen situation.)


  1. Power/empower  _____________________________________________________


  1. Status _____________________________________________________________


  1. Respect  ___________________________________________________________



  1. Feeling insulted _____________________________________________________


  1. Disappointment in the way things turn out _________________________________



  1. Physical pain  _______________________________________________________


  1. Emotional pain_______________________________________________________


  1. Goal attainment  _____________________________________________________


  1. Feeling threatened, mistreated, disrespected or minimized____________________


  1.   Entitlement ________________________________________________________


G. Body Language

  1. Picture the following postures and describe how you interpret its meaning or message:


  1. Arms folded______________________________________________________
  2. smiling face______________________________________________________
  3. pierced eye brows_________________________________________________
  4. legs spread far apart, slouching when sitting_____________________________
  5. scratching forehead, eyes upward, mouth open__________________________
  6. tapping _________________________________________________________
  7. fidgeting_________________________________________________________
  8. more talking than listening __________________________________________
  9. hands clasped on lap_______________________________________________
  10. twirling ends of hair ________________________________________________


  1. Are there any other interpretations you can think of?  _____________________




IXBeliefs (and assumptions) Steps to take to lead to Improved Outcomes


“Everything is meaningless until you apply your own personal interpretation.”


A .  Utilizing the above statement, we therefore realize that all beliefs are neutral until you apply your own meaning.  Therefore, choosing your interpretations wisely helps you to have more universal thought processes when it comes to honoring another persons’ boundaries. Think of times that your interpretation of another person’s communication to you (word choices and body language combined) was understood by you differently than how they intended it.  What are some contributing factors that make your point of view different than the other person’s?  __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


  1. A practice that utilizes healthy skills for interpreting our world is the practice of Mindfulness.  The Mindfulness process stems from the practice of meditation that in part allows us to develop a more acute awareness of ourselves and others, as well as increase our intuition about our environment.  The development of Mindfulness slows our impulse to react, thus increasing our ability to employ improved skillfulness in the use of our personal word choices and body language.  Mindfulness can be described as increased integrity and sensitivity to our interactions with others and our world.  In other words to be fully present.  (See attached Mindfulness handout for step-by-step instructions on how to develop mindful awareness in yourself).


  1. Stress


Tempers can erupt if boundaries are accidentally violated, that is, until you have mastered the art of understanding what makes you feel stressed and managing it before there is a problem.


  1. Unhealthy levels of stress can increase the chance of developing an angry response to an otherwise innocuous situation, meaning it can reduce your mindfulness to the extent that you are no longer effective in your interpersonal communications.
  2. Eustress and Distress:  Definitions and differences are_______________________


  1. Benefits of stress are: _________________________________________________
  2. Problems of stress are:  _______________________________________________
  3. Maladaptive behaviors that encourage stress:
  4. watching violence in movies, video games, or on TV
  5. ignoring your problems by hoping they’ll disappear
  6. allowing negative comments from your friends or family to continue their behaviors which which negatively influence your mood

4, allowing your own irritability to increase without taking action to reduce it or manage    it

  1. escaping your problems by becoming a “workaholic”
  2. excessive eating or drinking or both
  3. perpetuating your problems by continually vocalizing your negative perception about them
  4. knowing that your words have power and yet you seek attention (negative reinforcement) by selecting provocative words to dwell on your problem
  5. withdrawing or becoming isolative which can develop into a groundswell of emotion stored within
  6. personalizing situations that are not about you


  1. Managing your emotions is enhanced by better word choices in order to self regulate your emotions more effectively.  List some of common phrases that you frequently rely on to create a metaphor for your angry feelings (like I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t  ______. Or I feel like an emotional a yo-yo).  ___________________________________________________________________




  1. List a new, more effective way to express those feelings ( based on F. above) that don’t perpetuate the problem:  ____________________________________________________________________



H. Things you can do to de-stress:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Meditate
  3. Pray
  4. Talk it over with your friends and family.  Call someone
  5. Listen to music
  6. Call it a time-out and leave the room.  Go for a walk.  Count to 10.  Count to 100.
  7. Exercise
  8. Pace
  9. Practice EFT (tapping)
  10. Ask for a meeting to discuss the problem
  11. Substitute self defeating thoughts and behaviors, consciously, with more empowering word choices and thoughtful behaviors (change your what-ifs and shoulds)
  12. Insure 8 hours of sleep every night especially to begin before midnite
  13. Drink 8 glasses of water
  14. Seek to rest your mind and body, which is in addition to a good night sleep, and creates conscious balance in your life
  15. Seek humor, giving and receiving it
  16. Writing or journaling your thoughts to see how you sound or are thinking in an objective way when you look back to review your growth
  17. Protect your boundaries
  18. Contact your therapist for an appointment when you can’t resolve problem alone
  19. Read more about the problem to gain additional support and objectivity
  20. Take long walks or hikes
  21. Identify your triggers and maintain a mindful boundary to avoid reacting inappropriately
  22. Ask for help


  1.  Socially Acceptable Behavior

A  Now create the model for yourself by drawing from the training we just completed:

  1.  How would I control my impulses?: _____________________________________



  1. How could I hear and accept the word “no” from others without reacting inappropriately?



  1. How will I practice reading social cues?: __________________________________



  1. How will I honor other people’s boundaries?: _______________________________


  1. How will I protect and communicate to others to honor my boundaries?:__________



XII.     Risks


  1. Name at least three risky situations you typically have trouble managing appropriately.








B.  Name at least one risky type of relationship you struggle with:_____________________


C.  Identify your personal triggers.  Be honest with yourself.  This is the only path to gaining personal awareness.  They are like deficits to your personality.  They should become part of your focus on personal growth.  And then forgive yourself when you find it difficult to overcome or improve on these triggers right away, or every time.  Name at least 5:  ______________________________________________________________________




D.  Identify your boundaries, again, to protect yourself from being triggered:  ____________







XIII.     Summary


  1. Identify your beliefs, which is an ongoing process.  Work to improve your effectiveness as a communicator by adjusting any unhealthy beliefs.  This will improve your chances that in an impromptu moment your involuntary reaction to another will demonstrate good boundaries with them.  Continually working to understand yourself by identifying your beliefs is the best way to avoid unwanted reactions.


  1. Journal to increase your awareness and develop a process for self improvement in this area



  1. Meditate to slow your reactions and increase your awareness (see attached handout)


  1. Take space to get centered which may prevent a “lapse in judgment.”  Similar to a child’s time-out, only it is self imposed.  Try meditating to enhance your effectiveness.



  1. Be mindful that there are other ways to interpret a situation or resolve it.  The practice of Mindfulness keeps your selection of healthy choices closer to the surface of your awareness which reduces the likelihood of making bad or impulsive decisions.


  1. Practice opportunities are environments you choose to enter — knowing you’ll be triggered to respond with old habits and thought patterns — with the desire to work through it by practicing your new skills.


  1. Verbal and physical respect and validation are important ways to demonstrate your understanding of another’s guidelines for getting along with them.  It also requires healthy understanding and effective listening and communication skills to convey your rules of how you wish to be treated and/or valued.