I'm a life coach – setting boundaries is the secret to self-esteem, happiness and a successful life

DO you say yes when you mean no, feel taken for granted, unheard or resentful? If so, you likely have boundary issues.

“Boundaries let the world know what we find acceptable and what’s important to us. Setting boundaries isn’t selfish, it builds self-esteem and creates a much healthier environment,” says life coach Michelle Zelli.

“Strengthening boundaries is simple, but not easy. You need to determine where your needs aren’t being met, be clear with your intentions and follow them through.” 

It’s going to feel awkward at first, but you have to push against that discomfort.

“People without boundaries don’t get the respect they deserve. Think of your boundaries as a muscle that needs to be strengthened, and you’ll be empowered,” says Michelle.


Michelle reports that she’s seeing an increasing number of clients suffering burnout, and WFH is a factor.

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One study reported 41% of people said their mental health had worsened during the pandemic*, while another found 52% felt work had interfered with their home life.**

But a lack of boundaries affects us whether or not we’re office-based.

“If you’re drained or overwhelmed, take responsibility for your own actions. Ring-fence how, where and when you work, so you’re not checking emails at night, working through your lunch or surrounded by work at the weekend,” says Michelle. 

“If you have an overzealous boss, communicate what you need. Ideally, do this face-to-face, even if it’s via Zoom.

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“Boundaries are not meant to cause conflict, so start with a positive statement to set the tone, state the issue clearly and calmly, and ask for the change you want,” she suggests.

“Humans are creatures of habit, so they might push against it initially, in which case, reinforce the boundary as many times as you need for that person to know you’re serious.

“In doing so, you’re going to feel more confident, assertive and respected.”


Creating boundaries in our home lives can be tough, because we often feel it’s “just how things are”. We also equate family with unconditional love, but Michelle believes this is risky territory.

“You can love someone, but it doesn’t mean you have to accept their behaviour, whether that’s taking you for granted or guilt-tripping you.

“We often say yes when we mean no because we’re scared of the consequences.

“This is usually a fear of conflict or rejection. So you keep putting others first and swallowing your own needs, which can cause martyrdom and resentment.

“And if you’re not getting your needs met, you’ll feel angry, too,” explains Michelle.

“What you need is a boundary, which must always be communicated in a clear, consistent, kind and respectful way.

Boundaries are not meant to cause conflict, so start with a positive statement to set the tone, state the issue clearly and calmly, and ask for the change you want.

“A healthy family dynamic is one where people respect each other’s boundaries and take responsibility for their own actions.

“When you set down your boundaries, it gives permission for other people to ask for their needs to be met, too.”


We’re sold the idea of friends forever, but we should be realistic.

“Very few relationships are for life – they ebb and flow,” says Michelle. But when it’s a friendship you want to continue and strengthen, it’s helpful to forge boundaries.

“It’s OK to make clear what’s acceptable and what isn’t, because a friendship without boundaries leads to resentment. 

Say you’ve got a mate who borrows money or drunk calls you at 2am – it’s down to you to create boundaries and let them know what’s important to you.”

Be prepared, your friend might be affronted by this.

“They might think you’re just having an off day. In that case, the next time something happens, you reinforce the boundary.

“If they’re not open to your needs being met, I’d question whether that’s a friend. And if they take it badly, that’s about them. Don’t take responsibility for somebody else’s behaviour.”


Whether you’re in the heady days of a new relationship, or decades down the line, it’s crucial to ensure there are no red flags.

“What can happen in a relationship without boundaries is, we’re so busy taking care of someone else’s feelings and trying to get approval, we accept pretty much anything to keep the relationship afloat,” says Michelle.

We often say yes when we mean no because we’re scared of the consequences.

It’s so important not to lose your sense of self. Research shows 64% of us believe self-esteem makes for a successful relationship.***

“Before you meet someone, think about what you want, set boundaries the minute you have any contact and take note of their actions, not words. 

If they let you down, make sure they know that it’s not OK. It sets the framework for a respectful relationship,” says Michelle. 

If you’re in a relationship, be clear what it is you need that you’re not getting and be aware this is rarely a one-way street.

“We don’t make enough time for relationship communication, and it causes problems. Whatever the issue is, make it clear this is something you’ve thought about and that it’s important to you.

“If they dismiss your needs, ask yourself if you’re with the right person.

“I’d also recommend a three-to-six-month relationship catch-up, where you discuss how it’s going and what you need to work on, so you’re evolving.”


Boundaries don’t only relate to others.

“Ask yourself where in your life you are feeling resentful, angry or disappointed. Is your body not the shape you want it to be, are you unhappy with your love life, are you in a career rut?

“Once you determine what isn’t right, you can start taking responsibility,” says Michelle, who argues it’s a lack of discipline, not motivation, that will thwart your efforts.

“Set some rules that will change the issue. Start with short-term goals, and acknowledge achievements at the end of the day by writing them down. Hold yourself to account.

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“The great thing about this is that every time you follow through, you’re building that discipline muscle and the brain begins to learn what it needs to do.” 

Sources: *Mind **Glassdoor ***Relate/Eharmony


Setting boundaries is loving, so don’t raise your voice, get personal or swear. 

Walk away from disrespect. You can’t control what people think of you.

Reinforce boundaries. Often, it takes three instances for people to know you mean it.

Avoid nagging – it can sound like white noise. Opt for a chat, a light-hearted comment or even a reminder Post-it.

Check in with yourself, as you’ll know if something isn’t right. Then take the steps you need to change it.

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