Healthy Boundaries

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection

– Buddha

This unprecedented time has given us an opportunity to pause, reflect and focus on the things that are truly important in our lives. As an unexpected benefit, the need for social distancing has provided many of us with much needed personal boundaries.

I grew up at time when children were seen and not heard and we were not encouraged to have personal boundaries. We had no privacy and there was a lack of understanding of the need for alone time. It reminds me of a scene in a Woody Allen movie where the husband is in the bathroom and the wife is yelling at him through the door. He couldn’t even get privacy in the bathroom. I remember times when the phone would ring and a family member would answer and would often listen in on the other line until I would tell them to hang up.  

As I have gotten older, I have become more aware of the need to have autonomous relationships with healthy boundaries. Something happened when I reached my fifties, I no longer had the energy or desire to give to situations that were not healthy. Last year I experienced some health challenges which I realized were from allowing myself to be involved in situations with unhealthy boundaries. The stress I experienced weakened my immune system and made me more susceptible to illness. I am no longer willing to compromise my health on situations that are unhealthy.

At some point in our lives we all need to “face our souls,” as Carl Jung once wrote, and do inner work on ourselves in order to heal and transform. I have become aware that the only way to have healthy nurturing relationships is for both involved to look within themselves and recognize unhealthy patterns, to be able to do the necessary work to transform.

This time has helped me re-evaluate my personal boundaries and have a new appreciation for how important they are and the freedom within them. Boundaries empower us by letting others know what works for us and what doesn’t, protecting our personal space and energy.

“Personal boundaries are physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational limits that define us as separate from others. Setting boundaries means that instead of taking on other people’s beliefs, standards, and feelings, we become in tune with our own. We learn to develop a more solid sense of self that helps us take control of what is important to us and make decisions that serve our value system.”[1]

Interestingly, if you’ve had boundary issues with members of your family, you most likely have similar issues in your personal relationships. For example, in needy, co-dependent relationships there are no healthy boundaries. The individual’s boundaries are removed, leaving them to sacrifice their own identity to get the external love and affection they crave by meeting the needs and expectations of another. When you sacrifice your identity to meet the expectations of another, you lose your sense of self along with your self-esteem.

Some people tend to blame others for their emotions and their resulting behaviours, becoming the victim. They are waiting for – actually expecting – someone to come and save them and give them the love and attention they desire. In so doing, they’ve given away ALL their power. Setting healthy boundaries for yourself empowers YOU and hopefully will teach others in your life to do the same and learn how to take responsibility for themselves. Just remember, it’s not your job to do it for them. Learning selflove is really the key to this process.

If you are in a relationship like this, you need to ask yourself if you are helping or enabling? Enabling can often be disguised as helping, but repeatedly rescuing someone from the consequences of their own behaviours perpetuates unhealthy behaviour patterns. When you set healthy boundaries, you don’t just empower yourself, you may also empower others in your life to take responsibility for themselves and start resolving their own problems and issues. When you stop rescuing, you help them access their own inner strengths, helping them move towards realizing their own potential. Otherwise they will continuously look for answers and solutions outside of themselves, always feeling needy, incapable and powerless.

How to create healthy boundaries

Know Thyself – When you start becoming aware of your thoughts, needs, habits, likes, dislikes, values and emotional reactions, it helps you understand who you are. Knowing who you are, who you want to be and where your boundaries are, helps you establish positive relationships with like-minded people.

When you become aware of what is emotionally draining and stressful, you can learn to manage yourself in those situations. Learn to let go of what no longer feels right for you.

Here are some situations that may be emotionally draining or stressful:

  • Being around someone who has negative energy, is manipulative, threatening, blaming, bullying or angry
  • Going through a significant life change such as the death of a loved one, moving to a new home, loss of a job or divorce
  • Unrealistic expectations to meet the needs of someone in your life
  • Feeling responsible for other’s emotions
  • Believing your happiness is dependent on the action of others
  • Having difficulty asking for what you need because you are afraid of loss of love
  • Feeling responsible for someone else’s happiness

“Many of us fear letting go of things, or activities, or people that are no longer right for us. Maybe we just fear change. We may have attachment to an outcome, or a sense of obligation to live or behave a certain way to meet the expectations of others, often family. Once we are aware, we realize that the feeling of obligation is just another choice. As children we learn that if we don’t live or behave a certain way, or do things we may not like doing, we experience disapproval, making us fear the “loss of love,” which is very scary. But as you become conscious you realize you have a choice. It is actually okay to choose what feels right for you, and by doing it, you are loving yourself, which is one way of letting go of that dependence on external love.”[2]

Become aware of your patterns. Unfortunately, most of us become wedded to our patterns. Generally, it most likely has been the narrative running through our lives for quite some time. How you behave in certain situations becomes a habit. In order to break a habit you need to become aware of your patterns and your knee jerk reactions, to not give them any oxygen. Another approach is to identify the root cause of the issues that keep coming up, and your role in them, (we always have a role in them) and become aware of the pattern. At this point it becomes important to learn to “catch yourself when you fall.” It reminds me of My Autobiography in Five Short Paragraphs, by Portia Nelson.” When we react to events in our lives simply out of habit, we are unable to see clearly until we can become aware, take responsibility and choose to make healthy changes to break free from our unhealthy patterns.

Jack Canfield says that, “Event + Response = Outcome.”[3] You may not have control or be in charge of the event, but you control and are in charge of your response. Learn to think things through and respond thoughtfully instead of reacting in a knee jerk manner.

Let go of self-judgment. In order to make changes you need to be your own cheerleader and embrace yourself for who you are and how far you have come. Don’t hide from your true self. When you screw up, acknowledge it, forgive yourself, let it go, and move on knowing next time you will do a better job. The faster you can do this, the easier it will get. You can evolve into a higher state of consciousness if you have selflove and treat yourself as a divine being.

Don’t condemn yourself when you screw up. Tomorrow is another day.

Pause. Before you react to something, stop and check in with yourself. Is this a healthy response? Am I perpetuating the problem? Am I enabling the behaviour? Is my response based on my own need or fear? Is this an old pattern that is no longer healthy? Take a few deep breaths before you respond. A conscious response is better than an in-the-moment reaction. When you remain calm, you will realize that changing your behaviour will help you and the others in your life. A calm decision to change your behaviour actually puts you in control, and gives you back your power. This requires letting go of the fear that not following the old pattern will somehow lead to a loss of love. At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about.

I go through times where it is easier to “let go and let God,” so to speak, and just go with the flow. I do it with awareness and as a conscious choice. I feel like my certainty and trust in myself comes in waves. I have been working on letting go of my attachments to outcomes and when I do I feel a sense of calm and I am able to be in the moment.

Learn to say no. No is a complete sentence, and there is no need to feel guilty expressing yourself. If you say no, it requires no further explanation. You may choose to say, “no, that’s not going to work for me,” or “no, that’s not going to be possible.” Nothing else is required. It’s important to express how you feel and ask for what you need. This is about finding your voice and making sure you are valued, by setting up healthy boundaries that empower both you and the others in your life. Your peace of mind and sense of self are more important than anything else. It’s so important to learn to say “no” when it’s needed and walk away from situations that are unhealthy. Anything else is simply not worthy of your time or energy.


[2]. Ara Wiseman, Feed Your Body Feed Your Soul. (Toronto: Maiden Tree Media, 2010), 112


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