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Summary: The Book of Boundaries: Set the Limits That Will Set You Free by Melissa Hartwig Urban

The Book of Boundaries (2022) is a pragmatic and empowering guide to setting healthy relationship limits. It provides over 130 scripts to ensure you always have the right words to set boundaries and create healthier, happier relationships.

Introduction: Respectfully set and enforce boundaries to solve relationship issues.

Living next to a vampire is a pain in the neck. But you can’t very well ask them to switch diets. So what’s a poor human to do? The solution is simple: stay indoors. Vampires may be powerful creatures, but they’re polite enough not to enter your home without permission. The same is true for other kinds of belligerent bloodsuckers whose negative behaviors threaten to ruin your life: you have to set boundaries.

But how? This summary to The Book of Boundaries is here to help you. It will teach you what boundaries are, when and where you might need to use them, and a few specific scripts for deploying this valuable life skill. You’ll learn how to set and enforce boundaries to solve relationship problems while remaining respectful of others – including vampires!

Book Summary: The Book of Boundaries - Set the Limits That Will Set You Free

Setting limits is being kind to yourself and your relationships.

Morning walks are a great way to start the day. They help clear your head and prepare you for work. But what if an elderly neighbor joins you uninvited? It can be tough telling them you prefer to walk alone. When you feel agitated, exhausted, or overloaded like this, it’s a sign that you need to set a boundary. Boundaries are essential for maintaining energy and self-esteem. It’s not just about stating your position; it’s about being kind to yourself. And kindness requires clarity. Repeat after me: “Clear is kind.” So, for the walking scenario, you might say, Hi! This week, I’m going to start walking by myself. I need this time alone to clear my head.

It’s easy to think of boundaries as something to use in difficult or dangerous situations. But the truth is that boundaries simply limit what we’re willing to accept from others. Setting limits isn’t easy. It can be uncomfortable. But so is constantly being anxious or avoiding certain people or subjects. Just remember, when you set a boundary, you’re also being kind to your relationships. You need to start speaking plainly and being honest about what you want. But how do you know when you should put a barrier in place?

The answer is when you hear your inner voice. You know, it’s the one which says things like, “Wow, I’m not going to answer that,” or, “Well, not really, but I feel like I have no choice.” Of course, these warnings aren’t always dramatic. Neither does the solution have to be. In the following section, we’ll use Melissa Urban’s “threat-level” system to help you decide when and where to place the proper restrictions to protect yourself.

Use the threat-level system if your safety or mental health is in danger.

A woman at the party eyed Melissa suspiciously. She asked Melissa why she wasn’t drinking, unaware that the author was in recovery. Melissa told her that she just didn’t feel like it that evening. Melissa didn’t believe she was in danger but chose to walk away. Later, the same party guest “jokingly” asked why she was acting so prudishly. Now Melissa’s alarm bells were ringing. Her thoughts curiously wandered to the Homeland Security Advisory System for risk management.

Was this a green threat? No. That was half an hour ago. The danger level is yellow. The drunk woman became preoccupied with Melissa as the evening progressed. She approached the teetotaler once more, insisting both of them drink shots. Then, boom! The threat level hit red. Melissa had to leave.

When someone threatens your safety or mental health in this way, you should be aware and ready to act. Thankfully, the threat-level system allows you to do just that. Green indicates the first unkind or awkward comment. Your reply should be firm. Here you’re giving people the benefit of the doubt. For example, you could say, “No, thank you. I’m not drinking right now.”

Use a yellow response if they ignore your Green boundary. Yellow is also a good choice if you know this person and think that stuff might hit the fan. Use powerful words like; “No. I have more fun when I don’t drink, so I won’t be drinking tonight.” Don’t bother justifying your boundary. Too much explanation is unnecessary. It often aggravates the situation.

A red threat signals danger. Use direct language. Make this their final reminder, and make it clear that you’re prepared to stand firm. Declare the consequence and be ready to enforce it, such as “It sounds like you’re saying I’m no fun without booze, which is upsetting. I hope you don’t pressure people to drink again. I’m leaving.” Every boundary you set must be enforceable.

It’s normal to feel anxious or guilty when setting clear boundaries. But practice will help you improve. Remember why you’re doing this; your needs matter. If you’ve experienced trauma, a boundary can be scary. If so, you should try counseling to help you regain control.

Now that you know why limits are necessary let’s look at more uses for them.

Saying no helps improve your workplace.

Like a raging whirlwind, the pandemic swept through everyone’s lives. People had to adjust to a new world. Eventually, we established a new morning routine, work hours, and leisure time to feel normal again. But the line between home and work is still blurry for millions. Email inboxes are overflowing. Phones buzz in the middle of the night. It’s hardly surprising. After all, we’re hardwired to take as much time, energy, and attention for ourselves as we can. Given this, we should reassess our boundaries to maintain a positive and productive work environment. But where do we start?

Well, the most common types of work constraints are time-based. Do you find yourself constantly bombarded with new tasks and deadlines? You’re not alone. Another aspect to note is personal time. Perhaps you don’t take enough vacation or sick days or continually come home exhausted. Also, personal space and energy can become an issue if people constantly intrude on your mental health or privacy at work.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to make changes. But how do you start saying no, particularly to your boss? You can start by combining your threat level with a boundary script. So, if a job is dumped on you once, it’s a green alert; you can say, “I can add this to my in-tray if you’re OK delaying or removing other tasks.” If your signal switches to yellow, try saying: “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time. I already have so much to do.” Finally, if things really go wrong, contact the people involved. For example, you can email them and say: “I’ve reached a tipping point. Any extra work would be harmful to my performance and mental health. Let’s set up a meeting to discuss potential solutions.” Make a record of your jobs and any extra requests your manager may need to be aware of.

Prepare for resistance. Coworkers or bosses may call you “unprofessional” or chastise you for “not being a team player.” You might also have to deal with passive-aggressive comments but keep in mind that healthy boundaries are good for you and the company’s bottom line. They make you more productive at work and energize you when you’re not there.

Is it common for you, your coworkers, or your managers to work extra hours without pay? Reading your company’s handbook and HR policies can help you figure out what’s OK and what’s not. And don’t be afraid to write everything down.

Putting your needs on paper ensures everyone is on the same page. That just about wraps up business. Now let’s discuss family boundaries.

It’s fine to tell your parents exactly what you need from them.

Grandma has the best candy and enjoys giving it to her grandchildren. But, when mom drives them home, her kids are left with enough energy to power the sun. It feels like a betrayal because Grandma has already been asked not to do this. If you’ve been through this or something similar, you need to draw the line. But how do you go about doing so without jeopardizing future visits?

First, remember that “clear is kind.” Second, talk to the grandparents and try to find some common ground. Use this time to thank them for all they did to raise you and to acknowledge how much they love your children. Agree that their rules apply when the kids are at their house. But it’s your rules when it comes to your kids’ health. While it can be difficult if your parents don’t agree with your parenting style or practices, remember, this is your life and they’re your children. It’s perfectly fine to tell your parents exactly what you need or expect from them.

As we’ve already said, the most challenging part of setting boundaries is finding the right words. If you have an obnoxious or awkward grandparent, use the following script, “Please don’t give the children sweets before I come to pick them up; it makes them fidgety on the way home. I’d gladly give them snacks to bring with them next time.” Remind the grandparents that they’ve earned a vacation from parenting. Politely tell them you know what’s best for your family. If this has happened before, switch to a yellow script and state: “Mum, I’ve asked you many times not to feed the kids sweets before I pick them up. If you can’t respect that, I won’t be able to bring them over anymore.”

Again, prepare for resistance. Most families aren’t familiar with somebody enforcing new rules. But you shouldn’t be concerned with how others react to your limit. If you can’t persuade your parents to reconsider, you may have to go nuclear! Engage your red script and include your consequence, which should sound something like this: “I’m not going to let the kids sleep over but you’re welcome to come to our house and visit.”

Since the family dynamic can’t change overnight, you’ll likely need to practice and repeat your boundaries. But small steps forward are better than none at all. So that’s taken care of the grandparents. Next, let’s talk about another sensitive subject: the in-laws.

The “magic number” can help couples reach an agreement.

The pop-in. It’s the scourge of the modern world. We’ve all been there. You’re minding your own business, enjoying some alone time when you hear your back door open. “Hello? Is anybody in?” You feel your heart sink in frustration. You know you’ve just lost a couple of hours of your day to please somebody else.

Normally, to combat intrusion, you might use a script saying something like: “Please call ahead before you visit.” Unfortunately, dealing with in-laws is more difficult than a standard inconvenience. It requires a more balanced approach. So how do you stop the pop-in without upsetting the applecart? It starts with an honest conversation with your partner.

Now, your other half is likely aware of how their parents act. They probably ignore any concerns so they can have a quiet life. So talk to your partner openly and ask them to respect your boundaries. If you’re already on shaky ground, try the magic-number tool to help you reach an agreement. This method is simple. Ask yourself, On a scale of one to ten, how much does it bother me when my mother-in-law shows up unexpectedly? Then ask your companion, “How important is it to you, from one to ten, that your mother can come and go as she pleases?” If you rate the situation an eight and your partner scores their answer a five, you both know which path to take before you set the boundary. And without complicating matters further.

Of course, each situation is different and some compromise may be required. But as long as you’re honest and know that setting the limit is more important than any power play, the magic number is a great way to start a conversation. Limiting family members can be challenging. So, next, we’ll cover personal relationship boundaries.

Say what you mean and trust your partner to do the same.

The start of a relationship can be so much fun – full of mystery and ambiguity. Though if you don’t progress past this point, you can soon face problems. Imagine you’re in a relationship and things are going great. You’re happy and excited about your future together. But then something happens that leaves you hurt and confused. Typically, the root of the problem is that you didn’t say what you meant, which can be just as damaging to a relationship as lying. So what can you do to prevent this?

Start by grabbing a chisel and carving the following phrase into stone, or put it on a plaque and display it on your desk. Whatever. Just remember the golden rule of relationships: say what you mean. Always say what you mean and trust your partner to do the same. When discussing difficult situations, speak clearly and kindly and hold them to the same standard.

Communication must flow both ways. So if your partner says, “I want to hit the town tonight – I’ve been feeling down and need time with my friends,” accept they mean it. If your spouse going out makes you feel abandoned, say so. Note that this isn’t gender-specific. Both parties must decide which option they’re willing to give up.

To recap, the golden rule prevents drama. It helps create a positive relationship dynamic by promoting communication, trust, and respect. As you can see, boundaries can be helpful but aren’t always necessary.


Setting clear, kind boundaries helps you identify your needs and encourages others to respect them. When they work, you’ll feel more confident and realize that setting limits isn’t selfish. With your newfound confidence, you can then set boundaries in other areas. You can suddenly say no to things that don’t serve you.

Of course, you can also set boundaries for yourself – who doesn’t need a little self-control every now and then? There’s always one more chocolate to eat or Instagram scroll before bedtime. The freedom that comes with setting a boundary can help you stick to it. Say you need to reduce your phone use; tell yourself, “I’ll be rested if I don’t look at my phone one hour before bed and I’ll get a better night’s sleep.” Suddenly, those late-night scrolls seem a lot less appealing. Automating boundary-setting can help. Keep your phone out of your room to avoid temptation.

So that’s it. You’re now ready to establish some boundaries. If you’re still worried and don’t see a specific solution in this summary, create your own alert scripts based on your threat levels. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel and how much your life improves.

About the author

Melissa Urban is CEO of the Whole30 and an authority on helping people create lifelong healthy habits. She is a six-time New York Times bestselling author (including the #1 bestseller The Whole30); and has been featured by Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and CNBC. She lives with her husband, son, and a poodle named Henry in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Communication Skills, Personal Development, Self Help, Psychology, Relationships, Mental Health, Inspirational, Leadership, Parenting, Social Skills, Interpersonal Relations, Happiness

Table of Contents

Author’s Note xi
Introduction: How I Became the “Boundary Lady” 3

Part 1 Boundary Beginnings 31
1 A Crash Course on Boundaries 33
2 How to Use This Book 65

Part 2 Your Boundary Practice 77
3 The Real Work/Life Balance: Setting Boundaries in the Workplace 79
4 When the Drama Is Your Mama: Setting Boundaries with Parents and In-Laws, Grandparents, and Other Family Members 125
5 Relationships We (Mostly) Chooses: Setting Boundaries with Friends and Neighbors 180
6 Love, Marriage, Sex, and Dishes: Setting Boundaries in Romantic Relationships 222
7 When You Can’t Just Walk Away: Setting Boundaries with Co-Parents 284
8 Clearing the Table: Setting Boundaries Around Food, Alcohol, and Table Talk 306
9 Handle with Care: Setting Boundaries Around Sensitive Subjects 348
10 Gifts to Future You: Setting and Holding Boundaries with Yourself 392

Part 3 Boundary Benefits 427
11 Gifts to the World: How to Hold Your Boundaries, and Everyone Else’s 429
12 The Magic of Boundaries 460

Acknowledgments 469
Notes 473


Stay tuned for book review…

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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