The Art of Boundary-Setting for Highly Sensitive People

A man has his arm out as if to say “no”

It helps to think of boundaries as invisible lines that separate us from others and help us feel safe, respected, and in control.

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), you have a unique set of traits that allow you to process and feel things deeply. These traits can be both a strength and a weakness. As a strength, being sensitive makes you highly empathic, creative, and can make you appreciate all the little things — those that others often miss. Yet being an HSP can also make you more susceptible to feeling overwhelmed and drained by the energy of others. 

That’s where setting boundaries comes in — it’s an important part of self-care for HSPs, as it helps protect your energy and maintain healthy relationships. It’s not always easy to set boundaries, especially when you care deeply about, and have empathy for, the people around you. But it’s crucial to learn how to create and maintain healthy boundaries to avoid burnout, maintain healthy relationships, and live a more fulfilling life. 

Boundary-setting is an art and takes practice, patience, and persistence. By understanding and implementing the concepts of doing so, HSPs can learn to live a more balanced, self-aware, and fulfilled life. 

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves in order to protect our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. They are behaviors that are — and are not — acceptable to us. It helps to think of them as invisible lines that separate us from others and help us feel safe, respected, and in control. 

As for types of boundaries, they can be physical (such as personal space), emotional (such as not allowing others to make us feel guilty or responsible for their emotions), and mental (such as not allowing others to manipulate or control us).

Like what you’re reading? Get our newsletter just for HSPs. One email, every Friday. Click here to subscribe!

Why Are Boundaries Important for Highly Sensitive People?

Because highly sensitive people are so empathetic and caring, this can make it challenging for you to set boundaries. You may be a people-pleaser and feel guilty saying “no” to people. Or you may feel responsible for others’ feelings. 

However, it is important to remember that setting boundaries is not selfish — it is a necessary part of self-care. Without having any in place, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, drained, and taken advantage of. By setting boundaries, you are able to protect your energy and maintain healthy relationships.

4 Tips for Setting Boundaries as a Highly Sensitive Person

1. Know your limits, like what makes you feel overwhelmed.

The first step in setting boundaries is knowing your limits. This includes understanding what drains your energy, what makes you feel overwhelmed, and what is — and is not — acceptable to you. Take some time to reflect on what you need in order to feel safe, respected, and in control. Writing them down and journaling can help, too.

2. Communicate your boundaries to others — practice does make perfect!

Once you know your limits, it is important to communicate your boundaries to others. This can be intimidating, especially if you are not used to setting boundaries. However, it is important to be clear and direct in your communication. You can use “I” statements, such as “I feel overwhelmed when I have too many commitments.” This way, you are genuinely expressing how you feel and what you need. And the more you practice doing this, the easier it will get!

3. Stand up for yourself and practice being assertive.

Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs in a direct and respectful way. It’s a form of standing up for yourself.

It’s important to practice assertiveness when setting boundaries, as it allows you to be clear and direct without being aggressive or passive. So if you really want to stay home on Friday night and have some quality alone time, but your friends are pressuring you to go out, be assertive! Say no without guilt!

4. Respect others’ boundaries, too, whether they’re physical, emotional, or mental.

In addition to setting your own boundaries, it is important to respect the boundaries of others. This includes not crossing their physical, emotional, or mental boundaries. This also means being understanding if they need to set boundaries with you. (Just think about how much you appreciate it when others respect and honor your boundaries, so do the same here.)

Now, let’s look at some examples of boundary-setting.

Examples of Boundary-Setting in Action

Physical boundaries

Setting physical boundaries is important for highly sensitive people (HSPs). It involves creating limits on how much time you spend with others, and setting physical limits on personal space and touch. 

For example, if you don’t feel comfortable with someone wanting to shake your hand or hug you, you might say “I don’t feel comfortable with physical touch, so please don’t hug me.” This sets a clear boundary around your comfort level and helps protect your personal space. Or perhaps someone is standing too close to you when speaking. You can say something, or just move back a bit and they’ll likely get the message through your body language.

Another example of physical boundaries is setting limits on how much time you spend with others, by saying “I can only meet for an hour” when someone invites you to hang out.

It’s also important to have a physical space that you can retreat to when you need time alone or to recharge, like an HSP sanctuary — a calm, soothing place with your favorite pillows, blanket, soft lighting, and so on.

It’s important to communicate these boundaries clearly and respectfully, and remember to be compassionate with yourself as you learn to set and maintain them.

Emotional boundaries

Setting emotional boundaries might involve not allowing others to make you feel responsible for their emotions or not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the emotions of others (which happens to sensitive people easily!).

For example, you might say, “I understand that you are upset, but it is not my responsibility to fix your problems.” Or, “I am here to support you, but it’s ultimately your responsibility to manage your emotions.”

Again, this may not be easy at first, and put the above into words that feel natural to you. But the more you protect yourself, emotionally, the better you’ll feel. 

Need to Calm Your Sensitive Nervous System? 

HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?

That’s what you’ll find in this powerful online course by Julie Bjelland, one of the top HSP therapists in the world. You’ll learn to turn off the racing thoughts, end emotional flooding, eliminate sensory overload, and finally make space for your sensitive gifts to shine.

Stop feeling held back and start to feel confident you can handle anything. Check out this “HSP Toolbox” and start making a change today. Click here to learn more.

Mental boundaries

Mental boundaries are another important aspect of self-care for highly sensitive people. Setting mental boundaries involves being aware of, and protecting, your own thoughts and beliefs. It is about being in control of your own thoughts, emotions, and beliefs and not letting others dictate how you should think or feel. 

One way to set mental boundaries is by being assertive and direct in your communication. For example, you can say something like, “I appreciate your opinion, but I continue to hold onto my own beliefs about this and will not be coerced into thinking otherwise.” Another example could be saying something like, “I’m going to take a break from this conversation and process my thoughts before responding” when someone is trying to rush or pressure you into a decision. 

Remember, you have the right to your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs — and you should respect and defend them. After all, setting mental boundaries is not about shutting out others completely; it’s about being able to process, analyze and think for yourself without feeling pressured or manipulated by others.

It’s also good to practice self-care and self-compassion when it comes to mental boundaries, as it’s important to give yourself time and space to process your big thoughts and emotions

Time boundaries 

Setting time boundaries involves creating boundaries around the amount of time you spend with others, as well as the amount of time you have for yourself. Time boundaries are necessary for HSPs to recharge and rejuvenate, as they can easily get overwhelmed by social interactions and activities. 

For example, you might tell someone, “I need time for myself and will not be available for social activities every night of the week” (or on certain days/nights of the week). This allows you to create a balance between your social life and time for self-care and self-reflection.

Another example of time boundaries is setting limits on how much time you will spend on certain activities, or saying “I can only stay until 9 p.m.” when someone invites you to an event. You may have to get home to take a bath or read a book — but they don’t have to know that!

Just communicate your time boundaries clearly and respectfully, and no one should have an  issue with them!

Boundaries in romantic relationships

Boundaries in romantic relationships are especially necessary for highly sensitive people (HSPs), as these relationships can often involve a high level of emotional intensity. HSPs tend to be more in tune with their own emotions, as well as with the emotions of others. This can make them more vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed and get drained more easily in romantic relationships. 

So it’s important to communicate your needs and boundaries clearly to your partner, and to respect their boundaries as well. For example, you might say. “I need space to recharge after a long day and will need some time alone before we can have a conversation about our x or y.” This allows you to set a boundary around your need for self-care and time alone, while also expressing a willingness to engage in conversation and intimacy with your partner.

It’s also important to be mindful of emotional boundaries in the relationship, and to be able to set limits on how much emotional intensity you can handle — and communicate that to your partner.

Another example of boundaries in romantic relationships is setting limits on how much time you will spend together, or discussing your expectations and needs around communication, trust, and respect. Remember, setting boundaries is a two-way street and should be a back-and-forth dialogue between partners.

The More You Feel in Control of Your Life, the Better You’ll Feel

Setting, and implementing, boundaries can be a mental health game-changer for highly sensitive people, as the more you feel in control of your life, the better you’ll feel. You’ll also be able to better protect your energy and maintain healthy relationships. It’s important to be aware of your limits, communicate boundaries clearly and assertively, and respect the boundaries of others.

Also, setting boundaries is not a sign of selfishness or not wanting to help out others. But you must take care of yourself, and your needs, before taking care of other people’s. It’s all about creating a healthy balance between the two. 

You might like:

This article contains affiliate links. We only recommend products we truly believe in.