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  • Writer's pictureNathalie Cordell

Drawing the Lines: Mastering the Art of Setting Boundaries

Updated: Jan 4

A journey to foster self-care and deeper connections (by Nathalie Cordell)

 

An AI generated illustration of a woman standing with her back toward the viewer surrounded by prisms that represent boundaries.
Courtesy of Leonardo.Ai

Most of us have heard of the importance of having good boundaries – but what does that really mean? What are boundaries? How do you establish and maintain them? And why should you care?


Boundaries define the limits of our personal and emotional space, guiding our interactions with others and safeguarding our well-being. In this article, we embark on a journey to uncover the true essence of boundaries, learning how to recognize your own, identifying when they are crossed, and exploring the art of enforcing them in a loving and compassionate manner.

 

What are Boundaries?

In essence, boundaries are the invisible lines that we draw around ourselves to establish a sense of identity, autonomy, and self-respect.



They serve as a fundamental framework for maintaining healthy relationships, promoting self-care, and cultivating emotional well-being. There are different kinds of boundaries:

  • Physical boundaries – like our need for personal space are more palpable and straightforward. We all have different limits depending on who is entering ‘our space’ and the context in which they are doing so. For example, you might be comfortable snuggling on the sofa with your partner, but expect some distance with an acquaintance. Or you may tolerate being squished against a stranger in a crowded train for a short period of time but would be quite alarmed if it happened in an empty space.

  • Emotional and psychological boundaries – are equally important to our sense of self, though sometimes harder to identify. And we often only become aware of these boundaries, the cornerstone of our sanctuary for well-being – when they are breached.

 

Recognizing Your Boundaries

Given the increasingly pervasive and intrusive role technology can play in our lives, it's essential to consciously carve out tech-free time.

Boundaries extend beyond the simple act of saying ‘no’ to pushy people. It is a lot subtler than that. Boundaries are really about your sense of self – your identity, your values, and what makes you uniquely you. Therefore, recognizing your personal boundaries is a vital step towards fostering a healthy sense of self and creating a balanced life.


Here are some cues to help you start to sketch the map of your own boundaries:


1. Emotional Awareness: Pay attention to your emotions and feelings in various situations. Are there certain topics or actions that make you uncomfortable, anxious, or upset? This is your psyche whispering about a boundary issue. Emotions are information. They send signals about what is important to us. So, it pays to pay attention!

2. Values and Beliefs: What is important to you in relationships? What are your non-negotiables? Identifying these will help you establish clear boundaries aligned with your core values and beliefs.


3. Personal Space Inventory: Consider how comfortable you are with others entering your physical and personal space. Recognize your need for solitude, personal time, and privacy. Your comfort levels are unique to you and serve as the blueprints of your physical boundaries.


4. Needs and Desires: What do you really need and want in order to feel good? It might be as basic as eating when you want to eat and sleeping when you want to sleep. You might be surprised how often we override our own needs, based on outside expectations of what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t do’.


5. Digital boundaries:

Given the increasingly pervasive and intrusive role technology can play in our lives, it's essential to consciously carve out tech-free time. Ask yourself: ‘How often do I engage with digital media to the detriment of my peace of mind?’ Consider setting firm boundaries, like a strict rule against checking emails after 7 pm or limiting social media interaction to a purposeful 30 minutes per day. These clear-cut parameters serve as a buffer, protecting your personal time and mental well-being from the incessant demands of the online world.


No one can know or enforce your boundaries for you. It’s your job to know them, make them known to others and ensure they are respected.


Still wondering how to do that? Try this exercise: Imagine your life as a garden. What boundaries would be the fences that protect it? What behaviors are the weeds that need to be pulled? Sketch a diagram of your 'garden' and label different areas with boundaries you wish to establish or strengthen. Visualizing your boundaries this way can make them clearer in your mind and help you commit to them in your daily life.



 

Recognizing When Boundaries Are Crossed

When we have spent years overriding our feelings, it can be really difficult and scary at first to recognise our truth, let alone speak it.

Understanding when our boundaries are breached is essential to maintaining healthy relationships and preserving our well-being. Often, we think of boundaries being crossed as something that other people are doing to us. But in reality, other than physical assault, other people can rarely cross your boundaries without your permission. So, boundaries being crossed often manifest as you saying ‘yes’ when your heart screams ‘no’, or vice-versa. This is a sign to pause and reflect. Signs of crossed boundaries may include:

  • Persistent Discomfort or Resentment: If you find yourself feeling consistently uneasy, violated, or resentful in a particular relationship or situation, it may mean that your boundaries have been breached. Anger is usually an indicator that a boundary is being crossed. But, depending on your relationship with it, you may have learnt to repress it, and it may show up as sarcasm, resentment, criticism (including self-criticism), shame, and many other guises.

  • Emotional and/or Physical Fatigue: Feeling drained or exhausted can be a red flag signaling that your emotional territory is being overstepped.

  • Gut Feelings: Trust your intuition, however it shows up – maybe it’s a gut feeling, an inner voice or subtle ‘knowing’. It’s often the first signal that you are overriding your boundaries.

Whenever you notice any of the above, try to pause and ask yourself ‘what do I really need or want at this moment?’. When we have spent years overriding our feelings, it can be really difficult and scary at first to recognise our truth, let alone speak it.


It can be a good idea to start small and in places where we feel safe and are unlikely to be rejected or ‘punished’. For example, it might be saying no to an invitation to have coffee with friends because you have a standing yoga class. Or it could be setting a timer for playtime with the kids, because you also want to prioritise yourself. Whatever you do, be gentle with yourself in the process. It takes time and practice to master this skill.

 

Enforcing Boundaries with Love and Compassion



Black and white photograph of woman with her left hand up obscuring her face representing "no" or "stop" as she enforces boundaries.

Perceiving boundaries as ‘all or nothing’ — either a selfless openness or a selfish fortress — is a myth that drains our emotional reserves. There is a middle ground, which is not about isolation, but a nurturing act that protects our energy and cultivates healthier relationships. Here are some strategies for enforcing boundaries in a loving and compassionate way:

  • Articulate your boundaries: Understanding your limits and clearly conveying them is paramount. It’s about nurturing an open dialogue where your feelings, needs, and limits are voiced with confidence and clarity. Embrace honesty in your communication — let it be the bridge that connects you to others.

  • Embrace Self-Care: Say ‘Yes’ to yourself. Putting yourself first isn't selfish; it’s necessary. Self-care is the soil from which your well-being grows. By investing time in activities that replenish you, you're not rejecting others but affirming yourself. Establish routines that celebrate your well-being and watch your boundaries naturally strengthen.

  • Enforcing Consequences with Understanding: Establishing consequences for boundary violations reinforces the importance of your boundaries. Communicate the potential consequences clearly and calmly, demonstrating that your boundaries are non-negotiable. Use 'I' statements to express how the breach made you feel and what you need moving forward.

  • Leveraging Coaching and Community: Embracing the transformative journey of personal growth requires not just intention but also a robust support system. Just as scaffolding provides essential support to the emerging structure of a building, a professional life coach can offer the specialized guidance and unwavering support necessary to construct and maintain the architecture of your personal boundaries.

Woman with hands crossed across chest in act of self care.

The Rewards of Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries not only safeguard our well-being but also pave the way for authentic, interdependent relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. By setting and maintaining boundaries, we foster an environment where healthy connections can thrive, enabling deeper relationships. This can be one of the hardest things to do, but here's how and why it is so important:

  • Mutual Respect: When we establish and communicate our boundaries clearly, we create an atmosphere of mutual respect within our relationships. Setting boundaries allows us to assert our needs while acknowledging and valuing the needs of others, fostering a balanced give-and-take dynamic.

  • Authenticity and Vulnerability: Boundaries empower us to be authentic and vulnerable in our interactions. When we feel safe and respected within our boundaries, we can express ourselves genuinely, leading to deeper and more meaningful connections.

  • Emotional Well-being: By enforcing boundaries, we prioritize our emotional well-being. This, in turn, allows us to show up as our best selves in relationships, cultivating an environment of emotional support and understanding.

  • Healthy Communication: Boundary-setting encourages open and honest communication. When both parties understand and respect each other's boundaries, they can engage in constructive dialogue, resolving conflicts, and maintaining healthy compromise.

  • Building Trust: Consistency in honoring personal boundaries and respecting others' lays bricks of trust. This trust is the foundation for relationships that are not just strong but that endure.

 

Putting Theory into Practice: Examples of Boundary-Setting Conversations

Remember, the key is to be as specific as possible and to communicate your needs and limits clearly and without apology.

Having a conversation about your boundaries doesn’t have to be confrontational or uncomfortable. It’s about clear, compassionate, and respectful communication – stating your need or desire, and being open to how it might be met. ‘Yes, and’ can be a powerful tool for this. Here are some examples of how to articulate and enforce your boundaries in various situations:


In the Workplace:

  • Setting Time Boundaries:

‘I am committed to giving my best during work hours. And to do that, I need time to switch off, recharge and do things for me. So I won't be available for work calls or emails after 6 pm.’


In Family Dynamics:

  • Maintaining Space Boundaries:

‘I love our family gatherings. And to fully enjoy them I need quiet time during the day to focus on my work. I would love it if we could plan any family activities after 5 pm, when I can be more present.’


With Friends:

  • Asserting Financial Boundaries:

'I enjoy our dinners out, and I also need to stick to my monthly budget. Can we choose a more affordable place or have a potluck at home instead?’


These conversations can serve as a starting point to respectfully define and enforce your boundaries. Remember, the key is to be as specific as possible and to communicate your needs and limits clearly and without apology. It's also important to listen to the other person's response and be prepared for a dialogue.

 

Summing it all up


Boundaries are the personal guidelines we set to outline where we end and others begin. They serve as the guardians of our well-being and enable us to establish healthy and fulfilling relationships. Recognizing our boundaries, understanding when they are crossed, and enforcing them with love and compassion are transformative acts of self-care.


The journey of establishing and maintaining boundaries is indeed a deeply personal one. There are no templates or scripts, only guidelines and principles. And in this journey, you are both the mapmaker and the traveler. Take heart in knowing that with each step, you are crafting a life of deeper respect, stronger trust, and more genuine connection.


Not sure where to start with setting boundaries? Attend one of our 'Setting healthy boundaries' workshops (Check out dates on our events page). Or book a free 1 hour consultation with me and get personalized advice tailored to your unique situation.


For more insights on self-care and healthy connections, subscribe to our email list. Receive regular tips and strategies right in your inbox to help you live a more balanced and empowered life.

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