top of page

Clean Boundaries vs Dirty Boundaries

In the world of self-help and personal growth, there's a lot of information out there about boundaries. And yet, there seems to be a lot of confusion, and discouragement with regard to what a boundary is, how to set one, and how to enforce one.

We often get boundaries wrong by

  • Attempting to control the other person.

  • Attempting to make the other person responsible for our feelings.

  • Requiring the other person to change in order to create the experience we desire.

  • Depending on the other person in some way for the outcome we want.

  • Attempting to create or manage another person’s emotions.

  • Being unclear or fuzzy in our communication.

  • Attempting to off-load our discomfort.

  • Expecting others to honor/uphold our boundaries.

When we do these things in an attempt to have boundaries, I call these "Dirty" Boundaries. The truth is, "dirty" boundaries aren't really boundaries at all. Instead, they are threats, or manipulations, or ultimatums, or wishes, or tantrums, or just plain confusing interactions and feelings.

Dirty boundaries will lead to frustration, resentment, escalation, disconnection, and confusion for you, and likely for the other person(s).

Boundaries are not a tool for me to use in order to control you or your behavior so that I can be happy. As adults, we have the beautiful gift of agency, meaning, the power to make our own choices. I have that gift. You have that gift. EVERY person has this gift.

"Clean" Boundaries honor the agency of all parties.

A "clean" boundary sounds like this,

"If you ___(fill in the blank)____,

then I will___(fill in the blank)____."

For example:

If you raise your voice to me, I will leave the room.

If you spend money in a way that puts me at financial risk, I will open a personal bank account for me.

If you eat my Halloween candy without asking, I will hide all future candy in an undisclosed location.

Notice that these boundaries allow for the other person to choose how to act and who they want to be. The only behavior required is what I require from myself.

You will recognize a clean boundary because it will

  • Define what I will do in a given circumstance or relationship.

  • Keep me responsible for my feelings.

  • Keep me responsible for my experience.

  • Allow for the other person to make their choices.

  • Lead to a result I can control.

  • Be well-considered.

Clean boundaries will lead to empowerment, confidence, clarity, self-accountability, respect, and connection for you, and likely for the other person(s).

Brené Brown says, "the most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries. ... They assume that other people are doing the best they can.... They're compassionate, because their boundaries keep them out of resentment."

For more help with understanding and setting clean boundaries, reach out to us.

14 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page