How to Respect Other People's Boundaries

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Boundaries

According to the American Psychological Association, boundaries are limits that people set to protect themselves in an activity, situation, or relationship. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, financial, or related to time, space, and energy.

Have you ever coaxed a friend to drink even if they didn’t really want to? Or interrupted your partner while they were on a work call? Or texted a co-worker after hours? If so, you may have made them uncomfortable and crossed a boundary, even if you didn’t necessarily mean to.

Setting a boundary is essentially someone’s way of letting you know:

  • How they prefer to communicate
  • How they would like to be treated
  • How they would like to be spoken to or touched
  • How they would like to interact or engage with you
  • The extent to which they’re willing to participate in activities
  • What is not acceptable to them

Depending on the type of boundary they have drawn and how it affects your relationship, you may find yourself experiencing emotions ranging from surprise, anger, pain, confusion, or acceptance.

If you’re wondering how to proceed in your relationship with them, this article discusses how you can respect others’ boundaries and why it’s important to do so.

The Importance of Respecting Others’ Boundaries

While we often talk about setting boundaries in our relationships with others, we don’t talk as much about respecting others’ boundaries. However, in order for us to grow, it’s important for us to understand why the person has set this boundary and to respect it.

“People set boundaries for their safety. Respecting them helps build trust in the relationship and shows the other person you care about their emotional well-being,” says Meghan Marcum, PsyD, chief psychologist at AMFM Healthcare.

The Impact of Disrespecting Others’ Boundaries

Disrespecting boundaries can cause significant harm to the relationship, according to Dr. Marcum.

Meghan Marcum, PsyD

You may not understand why someone has a boundary in place and it may differ from what is acceptable to you. Regardless, each person has a right to set their own limits. Ignoring a boundary is essentially a form of violating someone’s rights.

— Meghan Marcum, PsyD

When boundaries are consistently violated, it demonstrates a breakdown in safety and trust within the relationship, says Dr. Marcum. “It can contribute to conflict, emotional distress, and avoidance of each other.”

How to Respect Others’ Boundaries

Dr. Marcum shares some strategies that can help you learn how to understand and respect others’ boundaries:

  • Communicate clearly: Clear communication can help you understand what the person is comfortable with and where their boundaries are. It can be helpful to ask them how they feel upfront, rather than assuming you can borrow their sweater or expecting them to drive you to the airport.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues: Apart from the person’s words, it can be helpful to pay attention to non-verbal cues such as their tone and body language. These factors can help you gauge their comfort level. For instance, if their tone is unsure, their posture is closed off, or they’re trying to change the topic, it could indicate that they’re not very comfortable with what you’re asking of them.
  • Accept no as an answer: When someone says no, they are setting a clear boundary. It’s important to respect this, just as you would like others to respect your boundaries.
  • Don’t take it personally: Don’t assume that a boundary being set means you did something wrong or the person doesn’t like you. Boundaries are often about self-care and how much someone is able to tolerate at that time. Do your best to not take things personally.
  • Remember that everyone’s needs are different: Every individual needs to set boundaries based on their own preferences, tolerance, and abilities. It’s important to respect others’ boundaries even if they seem silly to you or are different from what you consider acceptable.
  • Process your emotional reactions: When someone sets a boundary in their relationship with you, you may find yourself feeling rejected, which can cause you to feel hurt, angry, disappointed, shocked, or embarrassed. It can be helpful to reflect on why you’re feeling that way. Processing your emotional reactions can help you either accept the boundary or look elsewhere to fulfill your needs.
  • Try to understand the reason behind the boundary: When you don’t agree with someone’s boundaries, it can be helpful to explore the reason they are setting it to help you understand their perspective better. If the boundary seems too rigid, you can offer your opinion. Come from a place of compassion and be willing to let the person decide what’s best for them.
  • Respect others’ autonomy: We’ve all been guilty of thinking we know what’s best for others. Even though our intentions may be genuine and we may simply be looking out for them, we need to trust them and respect their right to their autonomy. Even if things don’t go well for them, it’s important to let them make their own mistakes.
  • Note that boundaries can change: In a new relationship, whether it’s a friendship, romantic relationship, working relationship, or otherwise, you’re often getting to know one another and learning each other’s boundaries. These boundaries may become looser or tighter as your relationship progresses, depending on your dynamic.
  • Identify your own boundaries: Work on identifying your own personal boundaries; that way you will have a better understanding when others around you are stating their limits.

A Word From Verywell

Respecting others’ boundaries is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship with them. It’s not always easy to do—it takes maturity, integrity, and empathy to recognize that you’re making someone uncomfortable and change how you interact with them.

Ignoring or disrespecting their boundaries, on the other hand, can harm your relationship with them and lead to conflict, stress, or avoidance.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Boundary. APA Dictionary of Psychology.

  2. University of Illinois Chicago. Boundaries: What are they and how to create them.

  3. Auer-Spath I, Glück J. Respect, attentiveness, and growth: wisdom and beliefs about good relationships. Int Psychogeriatr. 2019;31(12):1809-1821. doi:10.1017/S104161021900022X

  4. Leary MR. Emotional responses to interpersonal rejection. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2015;17(4):435-441. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.4/mleary

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.