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  • Jessica Hayden, PhD

Balancing Boundaries Part 1

Updated: Mar 2

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Recently, my world expanded, I passed the most important test of my career. The test I worked so hard for three years to be able to take. I passed the career test, but I realized I had been failing at one of the most important tests of my life. The test of personal boundaries and standards. I needed to take a big fat time-out to assess and change my behavior, so I can be a better partner, therapist, coach, friend, coworker, and daughter. I'm grateful for friends who pointed this out to me, for it led me to dive deeper into understanding why having stronger boundaries will make me (and YOU) a better person.


This is something that I think is a struggle for most people who feel deeply compassionate and empathic. Especially for those of us in the helping professions. How do we give and show we care, without feeling guilt and remorse for not doing enough or being enough? I find I've been on that struggle bus for almost my entire life. I have compromised my own self-worth and self-respect to appease others, to make sure they know I really do care, or to show them that I'm understanding and flexible. Often, I end up getting burned. I become resentful and hurt when they don't meet my standards, but in reality I haven't actually maintained my standards in the first place. I take full ownership of this.


Signs of Poor Boundaries

  • You spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you don't truly believe are your fault

  • You blame others for how you're feeling, complain about other people, post personal rants on social media

  • You hate drama, but find yourself stuck in it frequently

  • You find yourself really attracted to, or invested in someone, but haven't known them long enough to really KNOW them

  • You try to impress people with money, power, or intelligence to gain their love or acceptance

  • You overshare with people you've just met, or are unfiltered in your sharing of daily drama

  • You ghost or avoid when faced with difficult conversations or have difficulty being direct about your feelings

  • You feel burned out by work, home-life, or personal relationships because you're always rescuing people you love or care about

  • You feel like people use you, take advantage or guilt you into doing things for their gain

  • Find yourself compromising your values to avoid conflict, consequences, or to please someone else

  • Feel like you're always trying to prove yourself or worth to someone

  • You feel guilty for saying no OR for asking for help

  • Share personal details with new people in hopes of hurrying the relationship along

  • Find yourself sucked into pointless debates on a regular basis

  • Find yourself making excuses for tolerating someone else's poor behavior

  • Find yourself taking responsibility for someone else's behavior (i.e. being embarrassed or feeling guilty, or thinking "I should never have let them drink so much" )

  • Your romantic relationships feel like a rollercoaster, when things are great they're amazing, but when they're bad, they're really bad Or you break up and get back together frequently.

  • Friends, coworkers, or family members say, "you're too nice" or "you're too forgiving, accommodating etc"

  • Feel upset and resentful because people don't carry their load, or feel as though you must do everything because otherwise it won't get done

Answering yes, to a few of these statements, means you probably need to establish and maintain better boundaries in certain areas of your life. Answering yes to more or all, may mean you need to take a deeper look at why you struggle with boundaries overall, which might mean seeking professional help through coaching or therapy. Often, this can be a sign of codependence, something I'll talk about in another post.


Won't boundaries make me look cold or uncaring? Don't I owe it to my family or friends to help them when they need me? How do I show I care when I have boundaries?

Imagine driving down a busy road, where all the traffic lights stop working; the signs are gone, and no one knows the rules. We can expect there would be no order, people would be yelling, and likely a lot of damage would occur. It would be out of control. These boundaries keep everyone on the same page. If we didn't have boundaries in driving, there would be chaos, so why do we feel badly about asking others to stay in their lanes?


Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and renowned researcher on shame and vulnerability says, "truly compassionate people have boundaries, we can't sustain empathy and compassion without boundaries. Compassion without boundaries, is not compassion, empathy without boundaries is not empathy." This means, if we compromise our boundaries because we feel guilty or blame others for not showing us respect or doing x, y, z (insert the thing here), our "empathy" and "compassion" becomes inauthentic, another tool in the game of getting social approval, rather than to feel fulfilled and fuel your identity. This is no longer empathy or compassion; this is dependence on external approval. This behavior will not improve self-esteem, it will make you feel less fulfilled and lower your self-esteem. I'd add, it will make you look less attractive in the end, because it looks like the opposite of confidence and self-assuredness.

Having boundaries is sexy.

Boundaries are a place where your responsibility ends, and the other person's begins. They help us determine what is mine and what is yours. This means, you take responsibility for your own behavior and emotions, while not taking responsibility for the behavior or emotions of others. You can never develop a solid identity of yourself when you're unsure of your own responsibilities, reasons for doing things, or unclear of who is at fault.


This is so hard when we want to be liked by others, get that raise, or be partnered in romantic relationships. Here's what Brené Brown has to say, "Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can't base our own worthiness on others' approval. Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say "Enough!"


Boundaries help us grow and open to relationships that are more fulfilling

  • When we establish boundaries, we know who WE are, read again, boundaries define who we are and what we will accept and won't accept.

  • Boundaries keep those who won't respect us out, and invite in those who will

  • Saying no, or that's unacceptable, may feel uncomfortable, but it leads to much more fulfilling experiences when you're not feeling as though you've compromised your own self-worth to please, satisfy, help, keep someone else

  • When people respect your boundaries, you know they actually care about you as well


Boundaries help other people grow

  • When you continue to allow people to cross your boundaries, you continue to reinforce the other person's disrespect, over-sharing, controlling behavior

  • Having boundaries prevents us from rescuing other people from the consequences of their destructive behavior that they need to experience to grow.

  • Boundaries stop us from doing for others what they should do for themselves

  • Why would your loved one change their behavior if you continue to make his/her life more comfortable by removing the negative consequences of his/her choices?


Boundaries conserve our emotional energy

  • We build resentment when we allow people to cross our boundaries, because of an inability to advocate for ourselves

  • You can offer what you can, you don't have to feel guilty for not being able or wanting to do more


Boundaries can be flexible and negotiable

  • Like any contract, boundaries are negotiable, if you're not compromising your self-worth.

  • You may not apply the same boundaries to everyone. You may allow a close friend to hug you, but maybe not someone on your first date.

  • Keep your boundaries reasonable. When boundaries are too inflexible you might find yourself feeling isolated, and boundaries that are too loose invite those who will exploit. If you're not sure, talk to a professional to help you establish boundaries that work for you.


Remember, setting boundaries is an attempt to continue a relationship with someone, not hurt them. Boundaries offer the space for deeper connection, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion. Boundaries keep people (partners, children, spouses, friends) in their lanes, and help them learn to be better.


Stay tuned for part 2 on how to recognize if you have boundary issues and how to effectively communicate your boundaries and what to do when people cross your boundaries.



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