Got Boundaries? Part One: What They Are and Why You Need Them


Do you have boundaries?

Do you know what they are and why you need them? If not, you’re not alone, and it’s time to get some. If you do, it’s time to polish them up so they’re crystal clear, because boundaries are the invisible shield that can protect you from unscrupulous people.

If you read the comments on this website, you’ll see a tremendous amount of courage, strength, and hope amidst the despair. But there is also a disconcerting theme woven through, a theme of self-blame and self-doubt.

So many of us walk around each day with no real sense of our true worth or our value, or who to give our trust to, or what our basic rights are in relationships. (there’s a list of those below). As a result, we see the skewed image of ourselves reflected in the eyes of those to whom we give our power, and we mistake it for the truth.

I decided to write this post as I was talking about boundaries with a reader the other day. She said she didn’t want to have any of those, because she believed they were barriers that keep people out, preventing close relationships and intimacy. Actually, they are quite the opposite! Boundaries are not barriers… at least not to the kind of people you want to have or to keep in your life.

What exactly are boundaries?

Anne Katherine, M.A., author of Where To Draw the Line, describes boundaries as limits you set to protect the integrity of your day, your energy and spirit, your home, your money, your health, your children, your priorities, the health of your relationships, and the pursuits of your heart. Boundaries are invisible, and are held in place by your decisions and actions. Think of them as a membrane that lets positive things in and keeps negative things out. Boundaries keep you intact. 

Are boundaries guaranteed to keep your life free from psychopaths and other manipulative people? No, but they give you a real chance, especially knowing what you know now.

A word of warning: If you’re involved with a dangerous person who seems capable of violence, the only boundaries that will keep you safe are physical boundaries, meaning actual geographic distance between you and that person. If you start setting verbal boundaries with a dangerous person, they may see it as a challenge to be defeated. Consider the risk before taking any action. Physical boundaries may be your only choice in this situation.

The subject of boundaries is a big one, so I’m dividing this post into separate parts. I will end Part One here with a list of your basic rights in relationships. It’s a good reminder, since they often get trampled or forgotten along the way. These rights are the foundation of your boundaries.

  • I have the right to have my needs and feelings be as important as anyone else’s.
  • I have the right to experience and express my feelings, if I choose to do so.
  • I have the right to not be responsible for the feelings of another.
  • I have the right to express my opinions, if I choose to do so.
  • I have the right to set my own priorities.
  • I have the right to establish independence if I choose to.
  • I have the right to decide how I spend my time.
  • I have the right to choose my own lifestyle.
  • I have the right to change my lifestyle, myself, my behaviors, my values, my life situation, and my mind.
  • I have the right to make honest mistakes and to admit those mistakes without feeling humiliated.
  • I have the right to self-fulfillment through my own talents and interests.
  • I have the right to grow as a person and to accept new challenges.
  • I have the right to choose who I spend my time with and who I share my body with.
  • I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in all my relationships.
  • I have the right to be listened to respectfully.
  • I have the right to ask for what I want assertively.
  • I have the right to say “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know” without feeling or being humiliated.
  • I have the right to say “No,” and to set limits and boundaries without feeling guilty.
  • I have the right to set limits on how I will be treated in relationships.
  • I have the right to expect my boundaries to be respected.
  • I have the right to walk away from toxic or abusive relationships.
  • I have the right to have these Basic Human Rights and to stand up for them.

♥ Thank you for reading.


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29 thoughts on “Got Boundaries? Part One: What They Are and Why You Need Them”

  1. Melissa Hawtof

    Appreciate your posts. Thank you.

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome. Thank you for saying so.

  2. Julie Casey

    I appreciate your posts and helpful insights into life. Thank you

    1. Admin

      I’m glad to hear that, thank you!

  3. Maria

    I was heavily involved with a manipulator. I really thought I discovered my soul mate. I had weak sense of boundaries. I did not know sinister people exist. I have strong boundaries now that will protect me in the future. I do not trust people immediately. I refuse to join online dating sites. I do not give anyone too much information about myself on the first, second or third date. I will leave a man who hits me. I have been informed that manipulators keep tabs on their ex girlfriends long after the relationship ended. He was very manipulative. But does that make him a psychopath just because he manipulated me? Are psychopaths mentally ill? Should we just forgive them because they were born this way?

    1. Admin

      Plenty of people are manipulators of one kind or another, but aren’t psychopaths. What’s important is the effect it has had on you. A lot of people get hung up on making “the diagnosis,” when all they need ever do is take a look at their psychological and emotional state, and take it from there.

      As far as forgiving them because they are mentally ill, that’s up to you. What makes it difficult is that they know right from wrong, but often choose to do wrong. It’s a gray area, and I think we all need to come to our own conclusions on that.

      My own belief about forgiveness is that it’s only warranted when someone expresses remorse, and it’s up to you whether you want to or not. You’ve got enough to deal with as a victim — why make yourself guilty and stressed over forgiving him or not being able to, as you “should”? You have a reason to be angry right now. We already let the manipulator talk us out of trusting our feelings and tell us our feelings weren’t valid; are we now going to let others tell us that our feelings are wrong and that we’re at fault for having them? I’m not buying that!

      I say OWN your feelings, be angry at the bastard, and the day will come when you go on with your life and feel peaceful and happy, no forgiveness required. Just take care of yourself, and in time you will feel indifferent to him and it won’t matter. Personally I had enough of being manipulated, and being told I should forgive just felt like more manipulation. My feeling was, “Don’t tell me how to feel, don’t tell me my feelings are unacceptable and don’t tell me what I should do with them, thank you. I had more than enough of that.” You know what I mean?

      Let’s not forget one of our basic human rights: “I have the right to experience and express my feelings, if I choose to do so.” The issue of forgiveness is a good place to start putting this into practice.

  4. rubi

    I will read this list of basic human rights over and over. Why? Years of being married to a psychopath. My eyes are now open. Thank you.

    1. Admin

      That’s why I put the list here. Isn’t it amazing to read it and think, “how did I ever forget those simple basic things?” Yes, read it as many times as you need to, until it’s etched on your psyche forever.

  5. Mike

    Having boundaries is great, enforcing them however is impossible. Master manipulators are masters at making the crystal clear very cloudy. In my experience it is impossible to have any kind of a relationship with a psycopath and if she’s got your children there is no way forward at all.

    1. Admin

      I don’t doubt it. I think it’s way too late for boundaries at that point. But I think they could help in identifying or deterring a manipulator in the very early stages of a relationship, if one is able to enforce them.

      I hope you have your children back, btw.

  6. Admin

    I hung around when he could only see me one night a week, too, and in fact stuck it out until he ended it. That seems to be what might happen in your case, too, and when he does discard you, it will be terrible but at the same time you will feel such incredible relief. Just to be able to put the phone down will bring so much relief at first, and then as time goes on you will realize how lucky you are to be out of the relationship, no matter how it happened. You’ll just be glad it’s over, that you are free again.

    You still have a chance to be the one to walk away first, and I hope you’ll take it. You sound as though you are under intense mental pressure. It seems like it’s quite a lot of fun for him to openly abuse you in so many ways and still keep you around. And you know you’re letting him do it, which is destroying your self-respect. I know it — I’ve been there. They get brazen at that point, when they know they can get away with anything. He is truly the puppet master now, and to him you are just a puppet (an object, a toy), a source of amusement and nothing more. But of course you are much more than a puppet; you are a woman with a heart and a soul who is suffering significant damage at his hands.

    I wish I had the perfect words that would make you stop feeling sorry for him, and start feeling sorry for yourself. Maybe then you would walk away. Although you know the truth of what he is and what’s going on, you aren’t truly seeing the insanity you’re involved in right now, or you’d run for your life. And it is insanity and nothing less, seriously.

    You just made me realize something. Psychopathy used to be called “manie sans delire,” meaning insanity without delusions or halluncinations. In other words, the psychopath is as just as crazy as a raving lunatic who has lost touch with reality, but he doesn’t appear that way. *YOU* are exactly the same way right now. I was just like that, too. I think they make us like just like them in that regard when we’re with them, and that’s why we stay. They draw us into their mental state — manie sans delire — and we don’t realize how completely crazy the situation is. You’ve even seen the “zombie” he really is underneath his mask (breathtaking, isn’t it?) and instead of running screaming, you sit still, mesmerized. You can articulate what’s going on and what effect it’s having on you, but the truth is you’re out of touch with reality right now, or you would not stay in this situation one moment longer. Not one moment.

    Keep going to your counselor and keep reading and learning. Maybe something will click and you’ll see the stark reality of it all and be able to walk away. I sincerely hope so. Please let me know how things turn out. Best wishes to you.

  7. Nearlybel

    That’s it! they draw us into their mental state, they infect us with something so powerful, we ‘see’ life through their eyes, we have to because then we can minimise their outbursts and hurtful comments and actions. But life is so black, so awful and when I’d say to him about it, he would snap, ‘I’m happy, the children are happy’ you’re the miserable one’ I’d walk away thinking of course your happy, I do everything to keep you that way. But you are never satisfied and why am I feeling so low. Anyways that was 3 years ago, I learned what he was from a health professional when I was finally able to speak about what he said and did 2 years ago, 10 months ago I moved 3 children, 3 dogs, 3 cats and we started truly living our own lives without his menacing prescence. I’m not saying life is a bed of roses ( it is) but learning what he is, helps in my healing, and knowing your enemy, because he really is your worst nightmare helps in so many ways. Jenny, you are such a smart woman, my heart goes out to you, you can do it, break all contact with him, it is soooo difficult, you deserve so much better, believe it xx
    Keep shining a light on their dark and nefarious ways.

  8. Maria

    Dear Admin,
    I desperately need your help and hope that you answer my e-mail on your blog. I have been reading your blog for months now and really enjoy it. I have tried medicines and therapy, but it only helps my situation a little. I cry all the time. In October 2012, my husband of 21 years left me for another woman. She used to be the high school and neighborhood slut. They are both the same age. He had been having an affair with her for over a year before he left and then moved in with her this past August of 2013. His friends were in total shock. He and his friends used to make fun of this woman in High school. However, before I go on I want to mention that in 1999 he also left me after cheating with his ho-worker, but we reconciled about 9 months later. Then after this most recent affair was discovered and after he left me, his ho-friend told me that she wasn’t the first one he has cheated on me with and that there were others. I asked him and he admitted to sleeping with one other person about 6 years ago. I can’t fathom how he could have been living this double life and appeared to be such a loving husband Allow me to explain…He used to cook for me because he loved it. He made every single holiday special. Everything he did seemed to revolve around me. He gave me cards and flowers and always had something really sweet written in them. When he first cheated on me all those years ago I forgave him and felt he deserved another chance. After all, this was my marriage. Now, please understand that I was not an angel in the marriage. We did have a lot of issues with the stress of our business and bills piling up. The Global financial crisis really hit our business hard and we had to go bankrupt. I was a partner and handled the financial side and advertising of the business. I also have a full time job. I was grumpy a lot and I lost my sex drive. I learned that it was the medication I was taking and a combination of stress was the reason.

    However, I also had issues with my husband that I was not happy about. I kept telling him I didn’t like it when he made jokes at my expense in front of his friends and he seemed to be irritable a lot too. I repeatedly told him to stop this behavior through the years, but he never did. He just said it was part of his personality to make fun and joke so I gave up and decided to just poke back when he did this to me. Needless to say this just caused more tension in the marriage for me. Since his departure in October, 2012, he has wanted us to be friends. He jokes around with me through e-mail (not insulting). I was responding in kind, but then about a month ago I stopped the cake eating and I only discuss business. Now, he acts like he is upset and doesn’t e-mail me much anymore. He told a very good friend of mine a few weeks back that he hopes I learned a lesson for the next guy I meet (insinuating that his cheating was my fault). I’m not sure what he meant. Did he teach me a lesson by his screwing around and leaving me? Does he think he was justified because we weren’t intimate enough? WTF is wrong with this idiot? Learned my lesson? He has destroyed my life. I still cannot function and my house has been a complete mess. I think he made this remark because he knew it would get back to me. I assume he is upset because I am not friendly with him anymore.

    Anyway, how can a man who seemed to be a good person and husband through the years end up being such a scumbag lying cheating A-hole? Not only did he do all kinds of things for me during our marriage and said he liked to spoil me, but he used to always help his friends and others too. But, I have to say that even though he seemed like a thoughtful caring person, he also enjoyed insulting people “in a friendly way” of course. When I first found out about this recent affair I asked him why he cheated on me all during our marriage. His answer was that he sometimes has a heart of gold and sometimes he is a scumbag and that he didn’t really know why. I need your advice really bad. Is he a Psychopath or a Narcissist and what are the differences between the two? I heard Narcs also have a lot of rage and sometimes physically abuse their spouses. He was never abusive to me and didn’t rage either. I am also hoping that your audience will chime in and give me examples of other spouses who have conducted themselves in this manner. I am damaged beyond repair because of this. I have no interest in dating or anything for that matter. I need to continually be reminded that I’m not alone in this or I’m not going to make it through. I sometimes feel I will have some kind of breakdown. Your help is so appreciated. Thank you so much.


    Can’t move on

    1. Admin

      Thank you for reading the blog! I am truly sorry to hear about the situation you’re in. Because he was leading a “double life,” seeming to be a good husband and simultaneously cheating on you and insulting you, makes it especially hard to understand and accept. This is the issue we struggle with when trying to make sense of what happened. You say that you don’t know what he meant when he said he “taught you a lesson for the next guy.” Yes, I agree that he made this remark knowing it would get back to you. What it means is this: He’s an a$$hole and a liar. It means NOTHING about you. You were right to reduce the conversation with him to business only, and this is probably the reason he made that remark.

      Marie, there is no way I can tell you exactly what he is — a psychopath or narcissist. From what you’ve told me of his behavior, he could be. I honestly don’t know. But the important this is this: You do not need to be certain of a “diagnosis” before you can heal and move on. Trying to figure it out, and feeling that you must know, is probably helping to keep you stuck. The important thing in all of this is how his behavior (no matter what the cause) has affected you.

      The duplicitous behavior is what makes it hard to accept, and chances are you will never be able to reconcile the two very different people you were dealing with. How could you?

      What it boils down to is not figuring it out, but accepting that you will most likely never figure it out, and being able to live with that.

      From the “Hallelujah” post: Sandra Brown writes in “Women Who Love Psychopaths” that since the victim was given so much conflicting information, s/he is unable to stay on the same page about who the psychopathic partner really is. This creates a “ping-pong” effect in her mind where conflicting thoughts constantly pop up but never resolve anything.” I know the intrusive thoughts you are having are not easy to deal with. They will diminish and resolve in time. One thing that helps is to stop feeling that you have to figure it out. I know you feel you need to, but it probably wouldn’t make a difference — you already know everything you need to know.

      I feel confident telling you that you are NOT damaged beyond repair, but you do need to stop telling yourself that because if that’s what you believe, then that will be your reality. Since it’s not true, you no longer need to believe it. You do have the ability to overcome this. You’re determined and that’s very good, but try and shift the focus of your determination to your healing process.

      Read the Hallelujah post — it’s all about being unable to reconcile what happened, and what you might be able to do about it.

      Also read Feelings of loss and grief after the psychopath is gone

      Are you still going to therapy? If your therapist wasn’t helping you, don’t give up on it — find another one. It’s definitely worth it when you find someone who will listen and who can help you focus on moving forward. You have been through a lot. Remember that moving on and healing doesn’t mean that you didn’t suffer greatly or that it wasn’t all that bad. Healing doesn’t change what happened, but it changes you and gives you the chance to live a good life again. I hope this has helped in some way.

  9. Marie

    I don’t understand why my comments do not show up in this forum. I want to see if this one shows up.

    1. Admin

      Hi Marie. I moderate all comments on this blog to keep the trolls away. In other words, they are held in a cue until I can read and publish them. I will read and reply to your long email when I get a break. Thank you for your comments!

  10. Cheryl Freeman

    Yes, *boundaries* : I believe could have helped me. I would have found out immediately by my setting a boundary and watching Mr. Psychopath’s response that he did not respect and would not accept my boundaries.

    I am making a boundary list now, writing it down, posting it on my living room wall, putting a copy in my purse, so i cannot forget.

    1. Admin

      Good, I’m glad to hear it! Make sure to read a couple of the books on that list — they will tell you much more than I can.

  11. Marie

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write me back. Your answer helped me. I will read those links you suggested. I know I spend a lot of time trying to figure out him out and what made him seem to change overnight. Thanks again!!

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome. Please let me know how you’re doing. And know that you are not alone.

  12. Maria

    I agree with you. He has never apologized to me so why should I forgive him. He beat me up, blamed me for everything, spread false rumors about me and lied to me. Nothing good will come out of manipulative relationships. Fortunately, I am still young and have my whole life ahead of me. Hopefully our next relationships will be drama free and nothing like our past relationships. Anyways, I love your website. I wish you had your own talk show because you have so much knowledge about this. You are obviously very passionate about spreading awareness and so am I. Is that what you actually look like- is that you, the image of the women on the ‘About the Author’ page?

    1. Admin

      I’m glad you love the website! Thank you. I am passionate about spreading awareness, but a talk show is definitely not in my future! Blogging is more my cup of tea.

      The portrait on the ‘About’ page is not me. There is something about her that resembles me, which is why I picked it to represent me.

  13. efemeris

    thank you for this article. i was reading similar advices when learning about assertiveness. here is the link to it
    about forgiviness – you’ll have to learn whom you can forgive and whom not. forgiviness works only with the people who would do something to you unintentionally, without any bad thoughts behind, who realizes that he/she made a mistake, who is truelly sorry and who sincerely appologizes for what he/she did to you or said to you. you can reply “thank you. i accept your appology but please don’t do such things in the future”. manipulative people and psychopaths do often appologize but their appology is only an additionall manipulative tactic and not meant sincerely at all. you will have to learn to differ a sincere appology from a fals one. and first of all you will have to learn that the way you’ve been treated is not the norm for human being, that means that the way you are treated was not normal. such behavior belongs in the category “wrong” and not in the category “right”. learn your basic human rights and learn to respect yourself.

    1. Admin

      I agree. I was reading recently that Reeva Stenkamp’s (the murder victim of Oscar Pistorious) mother has forgiven him, only a few months after the murder! He brutally murdered her daughter, and she’s not angry at him? Something about that seems false to me. If she forgave him 5 years from now I could understand it better, but at this point it seems…masochistic. Or perhaps she does believe his story about the whole thing being an accident, and in that case I can understand it. I think she’s been duped by his courtroom hysterics. But of course I don’t know what the truth of the matter is, although things don’t look too promising for him.

      If it is important for someone to forgive, that’s their choice, although I would caution them to be certain it’s their own decision and that they aren’t being manipulated into it. If it is something they truly need to do, the best time is after indifference has set in. That way, they’ve felt and allowed their emotions (after having them invalidated and suppressed during their involvement with the manipulator) and learned what their emotions were there to teach them.

      Thanks for your comment.

  14. Admin

    Yes, I’ve witnessed that “zombie” state and also looked for information, but can’t find much of anything. When I witnessed it, it was as if the power had gone out. He was expressionless and without and affect, and spoke in a monotone voice.

    You say his zombie states happened after “very violent episodes.” My dear, this abuser is going to kill you. He’s already killing your spirit. You feel sorry for him, yet there is nothing to feel sorry for. You are wasting your life and yourself. And you’re right, he sounds like the type that would not just let go. But that’s not a reason to stay. You’re not having a relationship with anyone — you’re simply making yourself easy and readily-available prey for a predator. Nothing more. If you’re serious about wanting to save your own life and regaining your dignity, you need to bite the bullet and sever all contact with him. Time with no contact — none at all, not even a text message — might create a space for some clarity. Go away for two weeks, if you can. You have to do something on your own behalf. I believe that in situations like this, there is a part of us that sees clearly and speaks the truth and is trying hard to rescue us, but we don’t want to listen. What I want you to do is get a pen and several sheets of paper, and sit someplace quiet with no distractions. Get in touch with this part of yourself, pick up the pen, and let her write a letter to you. Let her say whatever she wants to say. You might be surprised.

  15. Ima B

    Great article and information.

    I would love to know how you feel the psychopath, armed with the list would manipulate each and every one of those rights. I live in pervasive boundary crashing and emotional erasing of my thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, goals, fun, joy, etc. My husband will tell me that I am not respecting his feelings. He will say “I feel I am punished by you, and I feel I have a need to be punished by your rage and criticism” I am not a punisher or a rager, but I do stand up for myself, assert my boundaries, say no. When I do this he escalates until I back down. If I try to leave, he gets in my physical space, blocks my way, etc.
    When I respond that I hear him and understand he is telling me he feels I punish him and that he says he has a need to be punished, that I believe that is a projection and he is actually doing what he is accusing, I have just stepped in to the dragon’s lair….and there is fire. I continue not to “back down” I am not a violent person. Now that I understand what has been happening in our relationship, I am much less insecure personally about my beliefs and values, but it does not detour his abusive, manipulative behavior.
    We separated 1 1/2 years ago because I was not going to stand for his increasing emotional and verbal abuse towards our son. I have never hesitated to get in front of his dysfunctional and abusive treatment of our son. The retrobution has been swift and fierce. Mostly verbal, in my face, raging, threatening in a vague way, name calling etc. We have seen 14 marriage counselors in 30 years. Not one of them will name the dysfunction. He is so charming, calm, intelligent. He cons the therapists. I never realized this until this last year after reading articles like this and reading 25 plus books on the subject of NPD Sociopath Narcissim. I have even discovered that our 2 most recent therapists are Narcissists. I know that because they both had the arrogance to “share”, in response to my direct questions about my husband possibly having one of these disorders. Their response in both cases was, “if he is a narcissist, so what? me too!)…..I now don’t even trust the therapeutic process. It’s been such a difficult road….and I know my road to recovery is going to be very long and painful, but I am committed to it for myself…and more-
    so for our son.

    1. Admin

      “He is so charming, calm, intelligent. He cons the therapists.” Isn’t it so mind-boggling that these people who are supposed to be the experts on behavior are so clueless? It doesn’t matter which country people write to me from, it is always the same.

      Yes, the psychopath will violate every one of our rights. We are the ones who have to know and remember we have those rights and protect our rights. From what I gather, in your situation you only deal with him because of your son. This is something I haven’t experienced. Are you keeping record of every conversation (such as trying to limit communication to emails and texts) or recording in-person conversations? Are you aware of, and using, the Grey Rock method? You can find that here:

      I read a book recently that gave me an appreciation for the situation you and other parents are in, and it is unimaginable and heartbreaking. That book was “The Other Side of Charm: Your Memoir.” You might think about giving a copy to your therapist and others who are involved; it’s a real eye-opener.

      I wish I had the right answers to give you, but I don’t. Even so, please know that my heart goes out to you and that I wish you and your son all the best.

  16. Valerie

    I have a sociopath who is launching a smear campaign against me, because he perceives that I rejected him. In reality, I had recognized that he was pathological and so I started drawing boundaries with him and backing away. This is when he flipped and started telling people that I’m crazy/unstable, and I suspect he might also be telling people I’m stalking him as well. Just a gut feeling there.

    How do I handle this? He is VERY slick and convincing. He exudes that authoritative, “always right” persona that weaker people naturally submit to. How do I clear my name?

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