Put simply boundaries are about choice, saying yes or no. So why do so many of us find this so hard to put into practice? In response to a request from someone else, why do we say yes when we really mean no, or no when we want to say yes.

Or perhaps we don’t even know what we really want, and feel confused about our own needs. We may give too much and end up feeling taken for granted at work, or by family or friends, but then feel guilty about saying anything. Which then leads to our becoming resentful.

Boundaries are essential to a heathy life and healthy relationships. A lack of good boundaries will damage you. The World Health Organisation released a study this month which concluded that long working hours were killing 745,000 people a year through heart disease and strokes. Those who work 55 hours a week and more are at 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of heart disease.

All too often, I have conversations with talented people who have real potential but don’t want to move up to the next level in their careers particularly in large organisations because they expect the demand on their time and energy would come at a cost to their family, quality of life and over all well-being. So, they end up frustrated because they know they have more to give but at what cost? And while it is true that workaholic bosses with poor boundaries create a toxic culture of overwork and stress, we all have the power of personal choice. We do not have to accept many of the demands placed on us at the expense of our fulfilment. Dying for the job, ruining your family life or choosing unfulfilling relationships needn’t be the case if you know how to set good boundaries.  

Our personal relationships can be a disaster if we don’t know how to set good boundaries as I found to my cost and I’ll say more later about my own boundaries struggle.

So lets start with identifying the problem

Here’s a list of traits you might recognise that signal you have issues with boundaries:

  • People pleasing, being too nice
  • Ignoring your own needs
  • Regularly over-delivering
  • Never asking for help
  • Power struggles with authority figures and institutions e.g. bosses, gurus, priests, the law
  • Burnout
  • Over involved in other people’s dramas
  • Being a push over and giving in to ‘bullying’
  • Unfulfilling relationships
  • Controlling and manipulating others

Issues with boundaries can be traced back to early life experiences that were emotionally damaging. We unconsciously develop survival strategies in response to dysfunctional family dynamics. Later in life, these strategies no longer serve us but because we are unconscious of them, they get in the way and trip us up in current situations that bear no relation to the past. Your boss is not your mother or father for example, or you won’t get a beating if you upset someone. The good news is we can change emotional patterns and behaviour even those deeply wired in our brain chemistry.

What are good boundaries

Setting good boundaries is like building a heathy house for your soul. Boundaries clearly communicate our values and what we stand for. Boundaries say ‘this is important to me and I will protect it.’

Good boundaries:

  • Keep us safe
  • Reinforce our values
  • Develop confidence
  • Maintain integrity
  • Increase our personal power and autonomy
    Maintain health and wellbeing
  • And they keep out people who would do us harm emotionally or physically

We lose what is most precious to us because of a lack of boundaries. Sometimes that may even mean our sanity if we’ve become involved with emotionally abusive people or as the WHO study clearly shows, we can even lose our lives if we’re unable to draw a healthy line between work and our personal lives.

Transforming a damaged sense of self is vital to setting healthy boundaries

Your self-concept shapes your behaviour. Dysfunctional beliefs from wonky family dynamics run to the core of who we are. It sets up the neurochemistry of “self-fulfilling prophesy”. Transforming our self-image and core beliefs takes awareness and commitment. Pain is the agent of change.

Ignoring my needs and pleasing others was a huge issue for me. I literally ruined my life putting others needs ahead of my own. I was unconsciously attracted to emotionally damaged people. My family role of caretaker and ironically scapegoat too, created the toxic wiring that eventually led to an emotional breakdown.

To give you an idea of how deep the damage was, this is a dream from 2003 when I had just moved into a cottage by myself determined to heal.

My first night in the cottage I had this dream.

Dream: Sunday 3rd August 2003

I was told I had a disease. To prevent me from dying, they would have to remove an artery from my arms and legs and chop off my hands. I was upset and said I would die anyway if they did that. Then a man said that they could make me really good bionic hands.

The trauma to my soul was severe. Interestingly, the Handless Maiden is a classic story of a women’s initiation into the underworld. It is a journey of faith, devotion and endurance. And if undertaken properly, we become women of intense inner strength and knowing. It’s a wondrous thing how the psyche follows these age-old myths and patterns of growth. Only in weaving the strands of my dreams over the years have I realised how strongly a higher power was not only revealing the personal myths I had to heal but showing me how to do it.

So if even we have a damaged sense of self, we can heal and learn to set good boundaries. And there are 4 areas in particular that I want to focus on:

1. Developing a strong, healthy ego

In my last podcast no. 11: Are you in your own skin? I discussed the idea of embodying your true self and how to create awareness that we have a body, feelings and thoughts but we are not identified with our bodies, feelings or thoughts. We are a centre of pure awareness and creativity. This pure awareness is our divine self. However, divinity needs a container to experience life. That container is our body and our ego self, together they house the soul.

Setting good boundaries therefore requires a strong, healthy ego. The ego comes in for a bashing in the field of personal growth. And its unhelpful if not destructive to think we have to eradicate the ego. Spiritual growth isn’t about eradicating the ego but seeing it from a different perspective. Yes, we do need to dissolve the small sense of self (the little ego s as I call it) in order to encounter the true Self (our big S), that divine jewel within, but while we are living in a relative world as Buddhist author Tenzin Palmo says “We need to become friends with this sense of ego as an aid on our journey. When we say we need to overcome the go, this does not mean that we overcome it by beating it to death.”

So to become a healthy autonomous adult able to set good boundaries, we need a strong, healthy ego. So what does this healthy ego look like?

It means we:

  • Can control our desires, physical, sexual, emotional
  • Create plans for the future
  • Are flexible, don’t retaliate when attacked
  • Nurturing to ourselves and others
  • Saves ourselves and do not tolerate abuse
  • Confident and capable

In other words, we have sufficient self-worth and give ourselves permission to say no. Our first responsibility is to ourselves, to treat ourselves with love and compassion. This is not selfish, it is essential for a healthy life.

2. Tuning into your body and feelings

We are energetic beings. We connect energetically with people unconsciously on many levels. Its like cords that run between us. We use language like cutting the ties or burning our bridges or he’s tied to her apron strings. That’s not just metaphorical its literal. People get into our heads and our hearts and our bodies. We form connections and develop patterns of behaviour based on the deep wiring in our energy body and its unconscious. And if these connections are unhealthy, they need to be re-wired or dissolved completely.

The body never lies. To quote Philip Larkin “Our flesh surrounds us with its own decisions.” 

So stay present and feel what is happening in your body.

Some people leave us drained – on the surface they can look like they have it all together but in the basement its carnage and they’ll bring that to your door before long. We already know this stuff.  As Caroline Myss says “Intuition is the ability to use energy data to make decisions in the immediate moment.” But we must have the courage to follow through on this information. However, we often ignore the warning signs, in my case continuing to look for the best in people when I need to walk away. My shoulders literally start to hunch now and feel tense when I’m with people who often unconsciously want me to carry their emotional weight.

Sometimes people are just flat, lacking energy and want to ride on your wave of vitality.” Your energy is magnetic”, I get that a lot. But what people rarely ask is how do you create this level of energy? 

I went from having no boundaries at all where I made excuses for people and allowed myself to be emotionally abused, to creating completely rigid boundaries and letting no-one in, before I learned how to trust my own body, my instincts and intuition about who was a good person to allow into my life and who wasn’t. I learned flexibility.

Internal harmony and balance are far more important than being in balance with other people. Tolerance is like a piece of elastic it can only stretch so far. And if pushed too far, it will break. Interestingly my dreams reinforce the true motives of others. The truth is always available in the energy field and you can learn to tune into it too. This will embolden your ability to make wise choices particularly around people.

3. Developing personal power

Until we own our own power, we will constantly seek it in others. Personal power becomes an agent of change. It gives us confidence in creating what we want in life. But we have to do enough inner work to create a strong healthy sense of self. To be self-accepting enough that someone’s else’s reactions are not our responsibility. This is not about manipulation, control or punishment.

Fundamentally setting boundaries comes down to self-worth and self-respect. In the field of energy psychology, it’s a focus on ground and what you stand for (1st chakra), personal power (3rd chakra) and self-compassion (4th chakra).

Bringing more power and love back into yourself and therefore creating healthy relationships and a healthy life, is about the courage to break the authority of fear over our lives and replace it with a more empowered sense of self. It is a journey to spiritual maturity. And it takes practice.

Becoming a professional coach helped me establish a boundary around the amount of support that I give to others. It soon became clear how many of my friends only wanted pseudo-coaching conversations around the issues in their lives and our time together was not about friendship and fun at all. I became healthier and more balanced by walking away from those who were not really interested in my well-being and who are not on my level of energy and understanding.

I am a natural nurturer and as an empath, I understand and connect deeply with people. However, I no longer abandon myself in fulfilling other people’s needs allowing them to take responsibility for their own happiness and welfare.

“The virtue of discernment is greater than any other virtue and is the queen and crown of all the virtues.” John of Damascus.

4. Take a stand

Boundaries like confidence only grow when put into practice. Its about pushing through the discomfort and asserting yourself. If you respect yourself, and properly communicate your needs others will naturally respect you. However, people are not mind readers, they need to hear about how their habits around being late, messy or not listening leave you frustrated and annoyed. People cannot change if you don’t communicate and mirror back for them how they are letting both you and themselves down. And sometimes we do have to draw a line in the sand and give ultimatums.


So in summary creating healthy boundaries means:

  • Develop personal power. Clean up your biography. Addressing psychological processes takes commitment, courage and time. There are no quick fixes. Beware the retreats promising instant healing. Developing personal power is a process. Get a coach or therapist. Remember you are not a noun, you are a verb and constantly changing. You can heal.
  • Find the diamond at your core. Accessing your divinity or Higher Self, will catalyse and deeply support your growth. Discovering the divine jewel at the core of your being changes the whole game of life. It’s an inside rock that gives true ground and confidence, a spiritual base and inner security founded in the truth of who you really are.
  • Create boundaried places – a meditation room or corner of a room, a garden or a warm study – sacred places that give temporary shelter from the ‘blows’ of the world. A place to connect with and listen to your body, your emotions and your feelings. Heal and recover from broken trust, a fractured heart or anxious mind.
  • Be direct and take a stand even if you’re scared. Inner work needs outer action. It’s a growth spiral. So find your inner ground, your guts and spine – advocate for yourself and express what you stand for. Integrity means you don’t move your boundaries when pushed.

Creating good boundaries takes practice. Remember we are all flawed human beings all with untapped potential. As Shakespeare said” The web of our life is a mingled yarn of good and ill together.” Things don’t always go the way we hope, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t keep trying.

Boundaries are just one but very important step in developing our true self and reaching our potential.

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