Inside: How to build boundaries with yourself that honour your wiring and help you live a fulfilling and meaningful life that feels true to who you are and what you want. This post includes referral links.
Boundaries are necessary for all relationships – work, kids, friends, and with ourselves. Building and honoring brave boundaries is also an important part of reclaiming our voice. (Join me for the Build Brave Boundaries Workshop to learn more!)
In my journey toward intentional living or living on purpose, the concept of boundaries has become a cornerstone. In order to say YES to what is important, we first have to learn how to say NO. No to relationships that don’t feel safe or nourishing, no to commitments that distract us from our deep work, and no to the habits that no longer support us in building a values-aligned and joyful life.
There are many types of boundaries including but not limited to physical, emotional, mental, time, and communication boundaries. A boundary (or boundary line) is a very personal thing. What serves me may not make sense to you. And what serves me in this season may look quite different from what helped me thrive in a previous season of life.
The goal is to maintain flexible boundaries rooted in your values and needs rather than those that are rigid or porous or those that conform to anyone else’s ideas of how you “should” live your life.
Rigid boundaries can keep us from intimacy, connection, rising to new challenges, or opening up to joyful opportunities. Porous boundaries can lead to offering more of ourselves than is healthy, people-pleasing, suppressing our wants and needs, and burnout.
Just like a healthy nervous system is one that is flexible, a healthy boundary is flexible or adaptive, generally speaking. There are relationships and situations for which a more rigid boundary can be appropriate. See The Personal Boundaries worksheet under resource number three below for helpful examples of rigid, porous, and healthy boundaries.
I’d like us to focus in this post on boundaries with self. Therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab, in her Set Boundaries Workbook, writes “boundaries aren’t just about telling other people what to do but are also about holding yourself accountable for creating your life.” I love this!
EXAMPLES OF BRAVE SELF-IMPOSED BOUNDARIES
Boundaries with myself have looked like deciding that I have enough books or clothing so if I buy something new then something else must leave in turn. Determining that before my beloved morning French Press, I must drink 16 oz of water. A couple more past self-imposed boundaries include setting a cap on how many outside the home commitments I’d say yes to each school year, and establishing a no-bullying rule for how I speak to and treat myself.
And a boundary I’ve recently set for myself is a 6-month ban on buying new trauma-related courses/training because my body is telling me clearly that I need to do less studying and make more space for my own healing and BE-ing.
Boundaries with self are not, then, always about raising the bar or demanding more or better from ourselves. For instance, as someone with perfectionist tendencies I often need to cut myself some slack by doing less work, or leaving some things undone so that I can practice rest.
In our culture that values quick fixes, overachieving, and acquiring more and more and more stuff, brave boundaries help us quiet the noise of comparison and build a life that honors our wiring.
Slowing down is brave. Living with less is brave. Not buying into the “mommy needs wine” culture or hustle-culture is brave (though since this is personal, enjoying a glass of wine guilt and shame-free can also be a healthy self-imposed boundary!). Making a mid-life career change to protect your mental and emotional health even though it comes with less pay or less social clout is brave.
A brave boundary might look like deciding we are worthy of living a full, beautiful life no matter how messy and imperfect we are. It looks like building habits that allow us to get a full night of quality sleep, making space for the right kind of rest, and providing ourselves with nourishment that fuels us. It might even mean that you set aside a day of the week or month to lie on the couch and read books all day.
How to Build BRAVE Boundaries with Yourself
There are all sorts of factors that may make boundary work hard or out of reach. If this is true for you, I encourage you to reach out for support to help you regain the skill, capacity, and sense of safety within your body and your life that will allow you to build and guard life-giving boundaries for yourself.
The number one way to build brave boundaries is to befriend yourself. We do this by listening and really hearing ourselves – for instance, not shoving down our emotions but listening to what they have to say. And we do this is by approaching self and life from a place of curiosity and compassion. Compassion and curiosity create a felt sense of safety so that we can grow, stretch, and become more fully ourselves.
Befriending yourself might look like writing a new story for your life: bringing compassion and understanding to the truth that your nervous system learned patterns of self-protection or survival that may no longer be serving you or bringing tenderness to yourself as you recover from trauma or grief. There is no shame in being human in a messy world! Life can be hard and we do the best we can with the tools, social support, and resources we have.
Getting curious can sound like reminders that we’re all simply practicing and there is no finish line for this work. As you bump up against a boundary, take note, and choose a course of action. If you notice resentment or anger building, that could be a clue that you have a leaky boundary in your life. Perhaps you had this all figured out and then you were thrown into a new season of life and you realize that your old way of being will not work for who you’re becoming and some massive restructuring is required.
Listening to or attuning to the wisdom of your body might feel like noticing what happens in your body when a decision you’ve made is in conflict with one of your core values or when there’s incongruence between what you say you want and the choices you make. Pausing to name how it feels in your body to say yes to something you want and how it feels when you say yes to something you don’t want. And it can include expanding your vocabulary around emotions and body sensations so that you’re better able to express your lived experience (a couple of books I recommend are Emotional Agility and Atlas of the Heart).
No is a complete sentence.Anne Lamott
5 RESOURCES to help you bravely build boundaries and live on purpose
1. Join me for the boundary workshop
Learn how to reclaim your voice and build brave and life-giving boundaries that honour your wiring and are rooted in the truth of who you are and what you want and need in this season of life. I’ll run this workshop with my friend and guest teacher: Doula, ADHD Coach, and Breathwork Facilitator, Anno Bell. I’d love to see you there!
JOIN US IF…
- You want to learn about different types of boundaries and how to recognize what a healthy boundary feels like vs what a leaky boundary or boundary violation feels like in your body.
- You want to release judgment and shame and bring understanding and compassion to how you operated in the past.
- You want to shore up leaky boundaries and practice honouring your own wiring and reclaiming your voice.
- You want to get clarity around who deserves space in your inner circle or gets the best of your energy.
- You want to stop taking responsibility for other people’s emotional wellbeing and hand back what isn’t yours to carry.
2. TED TALK: Good Boundaries free you
“Your story is being shaped by what you say yes to, and what you say no to” says Psychotherapist, Sarri Gilman. Listen to her 15 minute TED Talk, Good Boundaries Free You. She uses a visual of a compass that helps you set your boundaries and says, “You can trust this compass because it is only trying to do one thing, and that’s take care of you. And if you allow your compass and your boundaries to take care of you, it will mitigate stress.” Yes! Better boundaries = less stress.
3. RIGID vs Porous vs healthy boundaries
These two simple handouts from Therapy Aid introduce the idea of rigid, porous and healthy boundaries and help you identify areas where you may have unhealthy boundaries.
4. set personal and emotional boundaries
This article, This Is What It Looks Like to Set Personal and Emotional Boundaries, includes 7 straight-forward, practical steps for setting boundaries the right way.
5. Set Boundaries, FIND PEACE
I recommend the book Set Boundaries, Find peace: a guide to reclaiming yourself (she also created an accompanying workbook: The Set Boundaries Workbook: Practical Exercises for Understanding Your Needs and Setting Healthy Limits) by therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab.
Living unboundaried or with leaky boundaries increases anxiety, resentment, anger, and depletion, keeps us distracted, and robs us of joy. It harms us and it harms our relationships. It is not kinder to diminish your needs or dampen your voice to keep the peace or try to make others like you.
If you recognize that you have a lot of boundary work to do, you’re not alone. This is a maintenance thing – we’re always growing, life is constantly changing, and we renegotiate boundaries in our relationships over time, so it makes sense that you’re still in progress.
I’m cheering you onward,
NOW WHAT? Read about setting boundaries with others and stay in touch by signing up for my mostly weekly email.