By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW


Ahhh, I love the warm brick look of a good set of boundaries!   Boundaries allow people to feel safe, communicate their wants and needs freely, and protect themselves when threatened. 

Poor boundaries lead to highly aggressive (perpetrator) AND/OR highly passive (victim) behavior. 

So, what makes for good personal boundaries? 

As a feminist I find great comfort in the simple boundary of reciprocity.  With the exception of donations to charity, I aint gonna give if I don’t get something equally valuable back.  This applies to my top three resources: time, money and attention.  

For instance, I volunteer at my children’s school because it gives me the chance to see my boys in the most influential social setting of their young lives, as well as (hopefully) enhance their education and role model the importance of service.  That’s a whole lot of pay-back for an hour a week investment. 

In addition to considering and protecting reciprocity, I have a simple two step suggestion for helping folks develop sound personal boundaries:

  1. Play for Time:  don’t make any decisions that require your future effort in the moment of the request. 

When I worked for a mental health agency, I had a supervisor who (rather painfully) taught me this lesson about passive boundary setting.   Being young, idealistic and caffeinated, I was a font of suggestions for how our agency could improve. 

                “What if we organized an art opening, using our agency to display and promote client art to boost self esteem?”  I asked.

                “Hmm…Let me think about that,” she would say.

                “Could we study the similarity of auditory hallucinations in schizophrenics and self-talk in borderlines?”  I suggested. 

                “Hmm…Let me think about that,” she would say.

                “What about writing a psycho-educational coloring book for kids on divorce?”  I mused.

                “Hmm…Let me think about that,” she would say. 

 I recognize now that the supervisor was at her max and my great ideas were a bit like cheerfully offering to put a fifty pound weight on her back.   She played for time, and thus got out of having to actually decide and do anything.

  1. Develop personal policies to guide your decision making. 

Why do kids have a bedtime?  So that parents do not need to negotiate getting their offspring to bed every cotton-picking night.  8:00 rolls around, the parent can point to the clock and announce, “It’s bedtime.”  Kids may grumble and complain on their way to bed, but they get it that time is non-negotiable (okay quantum physics folks out there, the whole time-space continuum may be more fluid than my boys think, but please don’t tell them).  A bedtime policy protects both parents from frustration and kids from sleep deprivation. 

Having personal policies about friendships (i.e.:  a first-come, first-served approach to social plans, so that even if a better offer comes along you stay committed to whichever opportunity came first) relieves you of having to think too hard when feeling pressured. 

We humans are famously lousy at rational analysis when we feeling stressed, tempted or attacked.   Personal policies are like GPS systems: they guide you in the right direction no matter what you are facing.

Happy boundary setting! 


Interested in subscribing to my blog?  Great!  There’s a way to do that, but I have not figured it out yet in spite of trying to learn from tutorials… {Perhaps the computer senses my middle-aged techno-cluelessness}  If you are web saavy and could send me an email about how to set up or activate this feature I’d be grateful.  Thank you! 






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