Depression and Setting Emotional Boundaries

April 2, 2016 Liz Smith

Setting emotional boundaries when you have depression is tough. Need some tips to help you set emotional boundaries despite depression? Read this.

Depression can make it difficult to set emotional boundaries with people in your life. Many people I've met who suffer from depression, including myself, suffer from difficulties being assertive enough to look after their own emotional wellbeing but setting emotional boundaries is important in depression.

Setting Emotional Boundaries with Depression Is Hard

One of the main reasons it's so hard to be assertive about your emotional limits when you have depression is because of its pervasive effect on your self-worth. On those really awful, down days, the low self-esteem that comes with the depression makes it hard to consider yourself worth looking after physically, let alone emotionally. I've had days when getting out of bed and taking a shower was just too hard. I knew, rationally, that I should do these things to take care of myself, but the bottom line was, taking care of myself didn't feel worth it, let alone having the energy for emotional assertiveness or my self-esteem. Because depression makes me anxious about how I come across to people, I often find myself holding back on asserting how I feel with people who tread on my boundaries or hurt my feelings; because, I think doing that will drive them away. Sometimes I'm not even sure if I should be hurt or upset by what someone has said to me, because depression can cause you to have poor perception of your own boundaries and needs. If you have trouble deciding on those limits and boundaries for yourself, I'd encourage you to read this article about setting functional boundaries and maybe writing down a few of your own ideas to cement your boundaries in your mind.

Danger of Being Depressed with No Emotional Boundaries

When we are not honest about our feelings and can't communicate when we're upset, where do you think those feelings go? I certainly turn them inwards (I Can’t Reach Out, I’m Depressed). I don't want to confront my friend who has upset me, but I also don't have anywhere for the feelings of anger or sadness to go except inside. Setting emotional boundaries when you have depression is tough. Need some tips to help you set emotional boundaries despite depression? Read this.I'm not suggesting we should let loose and rage at our loved ones every time they annoy us. Unbridled anger aimed at another person is unlikely to be good for our personal relationships. While it's healthy to be honest about our feelings, we do have to be mindful that others have feelings, too. Being upset and angry can blind us to that sometimes, particularly when there's depression in the mix (The Relationship Between Depression and Anger). I recently had an experience like this with a friend -- he is the type who always blurts out exactly what's on his mind, because he just can't hold his feelings in, but he's often not terribly tactful with it.

How to Assert Emotional Boundaries When Depressed

Even though depression is a difficult and painful experience, it's useful to keep in mind when we need to tackle an emotionally difficult situation that others can be hurt, too. You must remember to choose your time, words and audience carefully.

Is It the Right Time for the Conversation?

Sometimes, if you feel confident you can address it in the right way, tackling an emotional boundary violation straight away is the right thing to do, but if you have any doubt that you can handle the situation positively (both for yourself and the other person), maybe consider taking time to think about it and handle it at a later date. I find it helpful if I'm angry, to write down how I'm feeling, because that at least gets it out of my head even if I can't confront the other party right away. Writing my feelings down helps me to manage overwhelming emotions and get a healthy perspective.

Are You Able to Use the Right Words?

Rather than talking in terms of "you said this" or "you did that," use the "when you said/did x I felt y" technique. That way, you are talking about the behaviour or what was said and your resulting feelings, rather than accusing the person of deliberately being hurtful or provoking you. A lot of the time, I find that people simply don't realise that they said or did something triggering or upsetting. A calm explanation of why the behaviour or the words made you unhappy will usually suffice. Of course, if it doesn't and the other person either doesn't at least try to understand or doesn't see why they should change their behaviour, that may be a sign of a deeper issue in the relationship.

Is the Audience for This Conversation the Correct One?

Finally, address your grievances with the person concerned. Don't talk to all and sundry about it. In a close-knit social circle, it's bound to reach them eventually and they will then be on the defensive if they feel they've been talked about behind their back. That's happened to me -- I didn't realise I'd upset a family member with something I said until I heard it from another person, which then made it much more difficult to resolve the issue as I resented being badmouthed. By all means, talk it over with a trusted friend or family member to gather your own thoughts and gain another perspective, but don't tell every single person you meet that day.

Asserting emotional boundaries is like any other skill in life -- the more you practice it, the more it becomes a positive habit.

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Image attribution: Tambako the Jaguar, used under Creative Commons License

APA Reference
Smith, L. (2016, April 2). Depression and Setting Emotional Boundaries, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Liz Smith

September, 19 2016 at 1:56 pm

I liked your description on how a depressed person feels (lack of self-worth, lack of confidence, not having the emotional energy to take care of herself/himself, uncertaintity on how to feel if upset or hurt) and the importance of those individuals to sr
As I kept reading, I wonder if someone with depression is able to have the emotional control to choose the right moment to talk, and choosing the right words. You talk about handling situations positively and giving calm explanations. I'm trying to find answers to better understand people in my work environment. Thanks

June, 14 2016 at 1:07 pm

Setting emotional boundaries was difficult for me as well. I ended up alienating myself from most of my friends because I was too scared of having a breakdown around them, and it's taken a while to repair those friendships. Thank you for sharing your story, it is truly inspiring to people like me.

June, 6 2016 at 8:26 pm

Really Depression gives very bad effect to health when i was depress its like a jail for me. I afraid to little bit of sound even I didn't go anywhere alone, I don't know hoe to live or not live but depression is very danger for health but yes I got a solution for that then i started Yoga and Meditation..

May, 28 2016 at 12:10 am

Nice article, thanks for sharing.

Lovisa Karlsson
April, 22 2016 at 1:11 am

Depression gives very bad effect to health. Sometime depression hits our health and our health goes down. So always keep smile and stay happy. You can share your health problem on our website.

April, 6 2016 at 4:48 pm

A very good information, excellent post. thanks

April, 5 2016 at 9:24 am

I have learned to do the following when feeling anxious: simply excuse yourself politely and leave. As one of my former psychiatrist's once said, 'when in doubt; don't.' There are times when one feels good about being with other people and times when we need to be alone. I am alone during the day except for company of my cat. My husband works Monday through Friday and I call him each day on his break and again at lunch. This is therapy for me and have been doing it since 2012. If while you are on the phone and the conversation starts to get out of hand and your anxiety is rising, simply make an excuse to hang up because I've done it. It's another way to say 'no, I've had enough.' I like being out by myself and at times, I enjoy eating out alone. Within the past 6 months, I started to grocery shop alone. This happened when my husband and I went shopping and we each took a cart and it worked out wonderfully. Now I am confident enough to do it alone. In driving home, I take the road that goes past the river so as to take in it's scenic view.

April, 3 2016 at 9:31 am

Sometimes we all need that Forest Gump moment. Where we just need to run and run until we have had enough and it is complete. I am afraid of heights, so I am going to climb a tall tree. I may look silly at my age, but I am going to climb a tall tree. Sometimes boundaries are increasing your confidence. I am going to jog over 20 miles. I will climb a tall tree...

April, 3 2016 at 5:49 am

I was attending the 3rd of 8 sessions of a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) program this past Saturday. It started out with a large group of participants and 2 peer facillitators but had been whittled down to just 3 participants by the 3rd meeting as people began dropping out. The two ladies running the group had very strong accents and their command of the English language was very poor which made it difficult to follow especially for those of us already suffering from depression. But despite all that I had decided to stick it out the best I could until it became apparent these two facilitators had an issue with each other and did not work well together as a team. When I walked into the 3rd session the tension between the two facillitators erupted into a verbal fight between themselves over something as petty as whether or not to spend 2 minutes or 4 minutes on an activity. One of them said calmly to the other that her behaviour was inappropriate and that they should step outside a moment to discuss the matter before resuming the meeting. The other one would have nothing to do with it. The argument got so heated that I finally had to ask them to stop their bickering. I told them their behaviour was totally inappropriate and was not adding to anybody's wellness. I even told them that if they didn't stop I was going to leave. It was a beautiful sun shiney day and I did not wish to spend it indoors listening to two people fight but they ignored my request and continued on fighting. Finally I couldn't take it any longer. My anxiety level was reaching it's peak. Eventually I just got up and left. One of them appologized to me, the other did not. I felt like saying that they should learn to practice more of what they teach but I thought that would just make me their new target so I did not
I felt proud of standing up for myself and setting limits. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and soaking up the sun and breathing in the fresh clean sea air as I walked along the sea wall and through a large urban park. I was determined not to let these ladies ruin the rest of my day!

April, 2 2016 at 4:58 pm

Sometimes depression can hit like a floodgate where you feel good at one moment and then that big sinking feeling happens. Sometimes I just need to be around people I trust. Sometimes I need to be alone.

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