Emotions How to set limits without fear and with empathy

How to set limits without fear and with empathy


Recognizing that you are not willing to accept behavior that makes you uncomfortable or upset is the first step in knowing how to say no. Having limits is your right and you are the one who can best defend them.

The limits in the material world are easily recognizable: fences, walls, signs or even lines painted on the pavement let us know where they are. The limits say: “Here one thing ends and another begins.” And they also say “On this side some rules work, and on this other side, others.” When something crosses a limit, things happen: something changes, sometimes for the better (when that passage is consented), many for the worse.

Although they are less obvious, people also have limits:

  • Physical limits, made up of our skin, a more or less small area that surrounds it (what we usually call our “personal space”) and our sexuality.
  • Mental or emotional limits, which include, among many other things, our privacy, our feelings and our decisions.

These limits demarcate a space that belongs only to you. A territory absolutely yours and absolutely private to which no one (no one!) Can enter unless you grant them access.

Sovereignty over our personal space, be it physical or emotional, is a fundamental and inalienable right that we all have. This means that we can always demand that others leave if they are closer (literally or metaphorically) than we would like and that they can never force us to approach (again literally or metaphorically) who we do not want.


We usually speak of “setting limits”, but that expression, so common and widely used as a recommendation (“you must set a limit!”), Entails two problems that make it difficult to handle these situations well.

  • The first is that the limits are not “set”, the limits are already there. In fact, that is why we feel discomfort when another invades us, presses us or demands us, because he is violating (whether he does it with intention or not) a limit. More than setting a limit, it is about identifying and communicating it properly.
  • The second problem, even more sharp, is that the phrase “set limits” conveys the idea that it is something that is done on another. However, strictly speaking, we cannot “put limits” on another person, because we cannot control their actions.

It is not in our power to get the other to “behave”, or even to be respectful. What we can always do is limit our exposure to such abusive behavior.


I cannot, no matter how reasonable my demand, say to another person, for example: “I forbid you to say things that hurt me”, or “Do not ask me for favors that put me in trouble.” That is coercion. What I can do is say: “I will not stay here to listen to things that hurt me” or “I will not do favors that put me in trouble.”

Setting limits is much more directed at ourselves than at others. His general formula is not so much “I will not let you do that” as “I will not lend myself to that.”

As you can see, basically, setting limits is simple. It’s about recognizing the point where giving starts to become painful or damaging to ourselves (whether it’s giving our attention, our time, our money, our love, or our body) and then openly communicating our refusal to do so.

Most of the people who violate our limits do not do it with malicious intent. They do not pretend to be abusive. Therefore, it is advisable to learn to establish our limits in a loving way: we also want to take care of the bond.

No need to yell, “NOOO! I’m not going to do it! Who do you think you are? How dare you ask me that ?!” You can very well say: “The truth is that that makes me uncomfortable” or “don’t count on me for that.” We can even very well comfort the one to whom we have “put a limit” or offer help, as long as that help is not changing our limit.

Few things have the transforming power of limits in our lives. They are a fundamental defensive tool and an unshakable bastion. Friend, friend, I invite you let us never renounce this indomitable power.


If setting limits is difficult, it is due to the “resistances” that we find (or think we will encounter) in those who will face our limits or in our own conscience. These are the main obstacles we encounter when setting limits:


Setting a limit is rejecting. And being rejected is painful. Many times, we believe that, if we set a limit, we will be transmitting a message of heartbreak and that, consequently, the other person will also withdraw their love towards us somewhat. “If I let him down, he won’t love me,” we tell ourselves.

Most of the time this axiom is false and, if we communicate our limit lovingly, there will be no deterioration of the bond.

If a love remains alone as long as we accept to give what we have no desire to give, we must conclude that it is not a love worth sustaining.


There are those who, when they say “No”, think that something that belongs to them is being taken away from them and they feel anger. It is crucial to remember that nothing belongs to you, that not giving is your undeniable right.

Try not to react to the other’s anger, not to get angry yourself or to seek to “get” the other out of that feeling. You can take distance, emotional or physical if you need to. If anger leads to violence of any kind, then the entire social, family and especially institutional support network will have to be put into operation to deal with these cases.


Guilt is the internalization of all those voices that raise a finger, accusingly and tell us: you are evil. But causing pain is not being evil. To be evil, if anything, is to have the intention of causing harm. And that is not, in any way, our intention when setting a limit: the intention is to take care of ourselves.

If we act out of guilt, what will come next will be resentment towards the other who (imaginatively) forced us to do what we did not want.


In some cases, what makes it difficult for us to set a limit is heartfelt sorrow for the pain others may feel or the difficult situation they may find themselves in.

At such times we may feel that saying “No” is cruel. However, in any case, what could be cruel would be not taking into account the wishes or needs of the other. But taking them into account should not always be inclined to satisfy them. Betraying ourselves is too high a cost.

MindFixes Staffhttp://mindfixes.com
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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