Boundaries are the invisible rules that we write to define how much of our energy other people have access to.
You’ll already be familiar with what it feels like when someone oversteps your boundaries. Whether it’s a mother-in-law who turns up unannounced, a child who sleeps in your bed more than you’d like, or a friend who asks more of you than you get in return. If clear boundaries aren’t set in the early stages of a relationship, then responsibilities can get blurred until you realise that you’ve taken on more than your fair share.
Why are boundaries important?
Setting clear boundaries is incredibly important.
Without them, what starts as generosity can build up as resentment until it reaches a critical mass, ie, the relationship ultimately ending. Blurry boundaries can erode your sense of identity until you start questioning who you really are and what you really stand for.
Of course, most people are not overstepping your boundaries on purpose, but they are simply responding to your energetic vibration and the standards that you have set for yourself. Boundaries begin with you, and they are not the other person’s responsibility if you haven’t set them in the first place.
Signs that you have blurry boundaries
- Not wanting to go and see someone because you know that you will feel drained afterwards
- Feeling like you have no time for yourself because you’ve given all of your time away to others
- Not looking after yourself (exercise, meditation, learning) because you’re working too much, cleaning too much, or spending all of your time caring for others before yourself
- Feeling irritable or frustrated at others, because deep down you are frustrated at yourself
- Blowing “hot and cold” because you’re getting close to people but then pulling away from them once it gets to be too much
If you feel that you are a highly sensitive or empathic person (you acutely feel the emotions of others), then consciously noticing and healing your own boundaries is especially important for you. Our desire to heal and help can cost us our sanity and allow one person to monopolise our energetic resources, instead of distributing them for maximum positive impact in the world. By wanting to help others so badly – without strong boundaries – you can end up hurting yourself.
How To Build Strong Boundaries
1 ❀ Follow your feelings
As always, your intuition is your best friend and most reliable guide through this lifetime. If your gut is telling you that a relationship isn’t even-stevens then it is probably so. It is a lot easier to establish boundaries at the outset than it is to try and claw them back later down the line. If you feel like someone new may be opportunistic, then make sure you set clear ground rules from the very beginning.
2 ❀ Beware of instructions from others
Doing what other people tell you can just feel like being helpful at first, but it can also be a sign of people pleasing if you make a habit of it. This is a big risk factor with particularly extroverted or dominant personalities in your life. Pleasing someone who cannot be pleased is not a reflection of you, but of them. Sometimes, no matter what you do for someone you will never gain their approval, despite meeting all of their demands. It is not your job to always do what someone asks.
3 ❀ Recognise your patterns
History repeats itself, so if the vibe of a relationship feels familiar then the dynamic will probably replicate what you’ve had before. We also inherit behaviour from the patterns we see around us, so if your mother/father were highly sensitive or chronic people pleasers then you may have watched their boundaries being crossed all the time as a child. Maybe you even crossed them yourself once or twice! By stepping back and reassessing what you do and don’t want from a relationship, you can steer clear of toxic and draining relationships in the future.
4 ❀ Identify time saps
Are you finding yourself without time to do the things that you want to do? If so, this can be a sign of boundary thieves operating in your life. Write down a retrospective timetable of your day for a week and total up where you have been spending most of your hours. For most people, the biggest proportion will go on work, but even then it may eat up more hours than you would like. Hopefully you will also be able to identify time saps in your life which you weren’t aware of, such as spending time organising plans for others or waiting for a friend who is always late to meet you.
5 ❀ Identify money saps
If money seems to slip through your fingers, then it can be due to poor personal money boundaries and/or poor boundaries with other people. If you always find yourself footing the bill for someone, or you are in a friendship/relationship with someone who never pays you back, then they are overstepping your boundaries. If you lend someone money then you should expect it to be returned to you as soon as they are able. If you are paying for someone more than you’d like, then remove yourself from all future scenarios where you might end up giving them money.
6 ❀ Ask an outsider
If you are struggling to spot your boundary violations but sense that you have some, then asking a trusted friend or family member who knows and respects you can provide some clarity. Other people can see the things that we don’t want to see, so asking for someone else’s honest opinion of where you are wasting your time/energy/money can confirm what you already suspect to be true. They may have been waiting for you to ask all along! As a bonus, they may also give you tailored advice about how to repair your boundaries in this situation.
7 ❀ Don’t heal if you don’t know how
Empaths can be drawn to damaged people like a moth to a flame. The problem is that this instinct to heal may not only be damaging to you in the long run, but it also may not be as healing for them as you’d hope. If there is someone in your life with serious issues who could be a potential threat to your boundaries while you care for them, then try and find the professional resources that they need instead. Finding the right mental health services, support group or medical professional will prove far more effective both for them and for you.
8 ❀ Just say NO
Those two letters are so very freeing. If you find yourself saying yes when inside you’re screaming no, then that is a definite boundary violation. Saying no feels strange in the beginning and can be tough for others to handle – especially if you have been a yes person for a long time. But the power of NO is undisputed, and when you research entrepreneurs you will find that it’s often their favourite word for protecting their valuable time. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, your time is just as valuable. So, if you find yourself wanting to say no, then be honest with yourself and the other person by just saying no.
As with everything in life, balance is the secret to a sound mind and satisfying relationships. So with all of this said, it is important to avoid diving to the other extreme of setting boundaries which are too rigid and fear-based. If you are terrified to allow anyone “in” because you have been burnt in the past then you will deprive yourself of emotional connection entirely. Setting healthy boundaries in the ways listed above will prevent you from bringing resentment and tall emotional walls into future relationships.
The most important boundaries of all are the ones that you set for yourself. Whatever behaviour you permit for yourself and the rules that you live by will signal to others what you’ll accept from them too. You can’t help others until you help yourself first, so the ultimate act of self-love is setting a high standard for what you will accept in your life.
Your boundaries are not made to be broken.