Want More Love, Joy, and Ease? Set Boundaries.

Mar 26, 2024

One of the most loving actions we can take for ourselves and those around us is to create clear and firm boundaries.  There are a lot of misconceptions about boundaries that cause them to be misused or misunderstood. I hope to clear some of that up in this post, so that you might give yourself permission to utilize boundaries as an essential tool for your well-being.

Let’s start by addressing a few myths:

Myth 1:  Boundaries are about other people’s behavior.   

Not so.  Rules about how other people should behave are called manuals;  you can learn more about manuals in my post here.  It’s so helpful to be aware of your manuals, your unconscious attempts to control others’ behavior, because they most often result in exhaustion and frustration.  Attempting to make yourself feel better through controlling others simply doesn’t work.

Boundaries, by contrast, are about you.  They are decisions; firm and loving decisions, about your values, priorities and needs, and what you will and won’t do in given situations.  Boundaries don’t expect anyone else to change.  When you set a boundary, you are deciding with yourself and for yourself what’s important to you, what’s harmful to you, and how you will show up for yourself – no matter what – based on these decisions.

For example, you may decide that cigarette smoke is something to which you do not want exposure.  You set a boundary:  if smoking is occurring, you will remove yourself from that space.  You will choose not to drive in a car with someone smoking, and you will not allow smoking in your car or home.  Notice that you’re not attempting to get anyone else to refrain from smoking; nor are you judging smoking or trying to convince someone to quit. You are creating a boundary for yourself and how you will behave if someone else smokes.

You can let people know your boundaries if you want. While this isn’t always necessary,  it works best when it’s done in the spirit of connection and clarity.  For example: “I want to connect and communicate with you about this, but I have a boundary around yelling.  If you yell at me, I will need to withdraw from my part of the conversation.”   Notice that this is not a judgment about yelling, nor is it a requirement of the other person; it’s clarity about your own boundaries, and what you will do to protect yourself.

Myth 2: Boundaries are selfish.   

Is it selfish to wear a coat when it’s cold outside?  Is it selfish to take your vitamins?  Wear sunblock?  Brush your teeth?  Not at all.  You do all of these things to keep yourself well and healthy, which enables you to contribute to your world and be there for those you love.  Boundaries are self-respecting, not selfish; they are an essential way in which we take responsibility for ourselves and our well-being.

Myth 3: Boundaries are harsh and create distance between people.

While there can be discomfort when setting boundaries, think of it as the same kind of discomfort felt during a good workout or when tackling a goal – there is so much positive emotion on the other side of the discomfort.

Boundaries are a prerequisite for connection:  it’s hard to genuinely be present with others when we are disconnected from ourselves.  When we say “yes” to everything and everyone, neglecting our boundaries, we often simmer in disappointment and resentment toward others and ourselves.  Resentment prevents connection, and over time, damages relationships.

In her book Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead,  Brené Brown notes that people with strong boundaries are more able to generate and feel compassion for others. A boundary is a way of filling our own cup with love and self-respect. Without that for ourselves, we will not have those things available to give.

Looking for a place to start?  Set a boundary around your most precious and finite resource: your time.

Boundaries make room in our lives for the things that really matter.  We can live our purpose, on purpose. Author Leslie Jamison writes about this in her recent New York Times article, The Mind-Boggling Simplicity of Learning to Say No. Jamison notes that by that allowing herself to say no to what doesn’t align with her truest values and desires, she can then “say yes more fully, less grudgingly – because I’m not living life like a pat of butter spread too thinly across toast.”

Boundaries work best when they are both loving and firm.   This means that when you set a boundary, it’s important to honor it, to stick with it.  When you don’t obey your own boundaries, you create confusion and uncertainty for others, and damage your ability to trust yourself.

As Cheryl Strayed writes in her masterpiece, Tiny Beautiful Things, “We have to reach hard in the direction of the lives we want, even if it’s difficult to do so.”

Boundaries are one tool for this reaching hard. When set from a place of caring, and providing clarity for others, boundaries are nothing less than an act of love: for yourself, for that which you want most to create, and for those with whom you want genuine connection.

If you need more boundaries in your life, I can help.  Let’s talk. 


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