Boundaries have become a pretty common topic of conversation and social media posts; But, like all trending relationship advice, there isn’t much information out there concerning what exactly boundaries are or how they work. (Though the Guardian did publish an article answering those very questions). So if you’re wondering ‘Do I have enough boundaries?’ Well, that’s pretty expected.

Here’s what boundaries are supposed to do: Protect us from people who might try to manipulate or take advantage of us. Tell us when we need to leave a harmful relationship or situation. Motivate us to communicate our needs and limits to others. And encourage us to respect our own limits and needs. Overall, boundaries can be great for our mental health (says WebMD), and our relationships (says PositivePsychology).

But how do they work? The first thing to know about boundaries is that they are found, not made. We all have instincts to communicate when something feels uncomfy, not quite right, hurtful, or down right unacceptable. But most of us have also learned, probably as kids, to suppress those instincts. When reflecting on your boundaries, the first step is to get back in touch with the part of you that knows what’s right for you and relearn to trust yourself to make those decisions.

There are a lot of different types of boundaries. Some are bold and inflexible. Others have lots of exceptions. Some are flexible and porous. Others change depending on people and situations. There’s no wrong way to demonstrate a boundary, as long as they work for you! You can learn more about different kinds of boundaries on the Therapist Aid website which has lots of boundary info sheets and worksheets, free to use.

Something I find is important to acknowledge in my sessions with clients is that boundaries are often two-part: internal and external. In-order to communicate our boundaries to other people, we first need to acknowledge and accept that boundary with ourselves. Sometimes push-back is inevitable, so we must be certain within our own mind of what we need and why we need it. This often requires practice, reflection, and even outside help. Therapists are a great resource for this kind of work.

Once a boundary sits comfortably in your own mind, the next step is communicating it. Whether this be a heart-to-heart conversation, a firm email, or even refusing to give an answer, all methods are valid! The biggest consideration here is that we can’t control how other people will respond. So, what is it you want to communicate? And what is the best way to go about it? Do you want to plan it out or let it happen naturally? Do you want to ease into the conversation, give the other(s) time to prepare, or jump in with both feet? And if you don’t get the response you’re hoping for, what do you want to do then? If you struggle with communication that’s a different topic, but books like Rosenburg’s Nonviolent Communication or Sofer’s Say What You Mean can help.

After the initial boundary placement comes the really inconvenient part: maintenance. Sometimes we are lucky enough that our boundaries are accepted with enthusiasm, but a lot of the time we get some push back. So we repeat, repeat, repeat. Some relationships are worth working for and you might be happy taking on the extra effort of reaffirming your boundary. But sometimes this is simply too draining, or we know that no matter how many times we say it, the other person is never going to hear us. This unfortunately leaves us with only two options: to walk away or to stay and accept the hurt we’re feeling.

When used properly boundaries set us up for fulfilling lifestyles where we only make sacrifices that feel right to us, and healthy relationships with support and equal compromise. Boundaries are difficult, and even uncomfortable, when unfamiliar. But like anything, practice makes perfect. So start small, be kind to yourself, and work your way up.