You feel pushed. Manipulated. Exploited. Dominated. Coerced. Pressured. Bullied. Controlled.
The person in front of you has gone too far and has overstepped your personal boundaries. But you don’t know what to do; you feel weak and helpless. A quiet desperation rises inside of you. You feel like a fly stuck in a web.
What can be done?
If you struggle with energy loss and issues such as over-commitment, lack of assertiveness, and feeling exhausted all the time by those around you, keep reading. It’s time to draw a clear line and reclaim your personal power.
Table of contents
- What are Personal Boundaries?
- Why Are Personal Boundaries So Important?
- 18 Signs You Have Poor Personal Boundaries
- Why Do We Suffer From Poor Personal Boundaries?
- 5 Myths About Personal Boundaries
- Boundaries and the Spiritual Awakening Journey
- 12 Benefits of Creating Strong Personal Boundaries
- How to Create Personal Boundaries That People Don’t Ignore
- Final Words
What are Personal Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the mental, emotional, and physical walls we create to protect ourselves from being used, manipulated, drained, or violated by others. These limits help us to clearly distinguish who we are and what we need from other people and their needs.
Creating and maintaining personal boundaries is essential to cultivating physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Why Are Personal Boundaries So Important?
Personal boundaries are an essential way of creating and upholding a healthy self-image. When a person has strong personal boundaries, it communicates to the world that they exude healthy self-respect and self-worth.
Most importantly, healthy boundaries help us to create a safe container within ourselves where self-compassion and mindfulness can blossom. Hence, creating boundaries makes us feel fundamentally good and preserves our personal integrity.
But without personal boundaries, we run the risk of confusing our needs and wants with others, which leads to codependency. Codependency is a term that describes a toxic one-sided relationship where we derive all of our happiness from others. The reality is that it’s impossible to enjoy a healthy relationship without strong and clear boundaries.
Without personal boundaries, there is also the risk of experiencing heightened stress and feelings of hopelessness. Overcommitting to everyone and everything tends to take a serious toll on your mental health, which can eventually lead to burnout – or worse: a nervous breakdown.
Finally, a lack of personal boundaries can result in feelings of being worthless, weak, or not good enough. In other words, our self-esteem will be severely impacted and we may struggle with issues such as chronic self-doubt, self-judgment, and self-loathing. Not being able to voice our truth and communicate our needs in a clear way can be deeply distressing and demoralizing.
Download FREE Personal Boundaries Worksheets!
Go deeper into learning how to establish Personal Boundaries with this journaling prompt + printable meditation mandala:
18 Signs You Have Poor Personal Boundaries
Pay attention to the following signs. How many can you relate to?
- You fail to speak up when you’re treated badly
- You give away too much of your time
- You agree with a person when you actually feel like disagreeing
- You say “yes” to a person when you want to say “no”
- You feel guilty for dedicating time to yourself
- You feel taken for granted by others
- You permit people to touch you when you feel uncomfortable or want them to stop
- You have toxic relationships (i.e., you’re always giving, and the other is always taking)
- You make too many grand sacrifices for others at your own expense
- You are passive-aggressive and might have manipulative tendencies (as a way of trying to regain your lost power)
- You constantly feel like the victim
- You feel like you have to “earn” respect by being nice
- You over-share details about your life with others
- You feel guilty when others aren’t happy (as if you’re solely responsible)
- You are what other people want/need you to be, and not who YOU need to be
- You’re out of touch with your needs
- You attract people who try to control or dominate you
- You have chronic fear about what others think of you
Pause to consider which one of these points caught your eye and tugged at your awareness most strongly. Then, take a moment to place a hand over your heart and send yourself some understanding and kindness.
Having poor boundaries is a frustrating and painful experience, and you’re certainly not alone in experiencing it.
Why Do We Suffer From Poor Personal Boundaries?
Before going too deeply into the understandable urge to blame or shame yourself in some way for having poor boundaries, I want you to understand that it wasn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility to now develop strong boundaries. So take a moment to feel some compassion, or at least sympathy, for yourself.
As children, we had no control over what our parents, teachers, and the adults around us taught us. As a result, most people with absent or weak personal boundaries as adults struggle to feel confident enough to draw a line and adequately tend to their needs. The codependent dynamics within our families, as well as being taught that “love equals what we do, not who we are,” contributed significantly to this lack of internal solidity.
As children, the first role models we had of “acceptable” behavior were our parents and family members. So pause to reflect here: what messages did your mother, father, caretakers, siblings, or other adults send to you growing up?
Were you only given love when you pretended to be who your parents wanted you to be?
Were you only rewarded when you went out of the way to sacrifice your needs and desires in favor of someone else’s?
Were you punished for saying “no” or speaking up?
Did you feel obliged to emotionally “take care” of an adult, perhaps a parent?
These were all signs that you were taught that lacking personal boundaries equaled a “good” thing.
5 Myths About Personal Boundaries
If you struggle with setting clear boundaries, you might carry a number of mistaken beliefs that you were conditioned to believe.
Here are some myths to be aware of:
- “Having personal boundaries is selfish” – This myth is probably the most common one out there and it’s based on the unhealthy belief that in order to be worthy, we must be martyrs constantly self-sacrificing our needs. In reality, having boundaries is a form of self-respect that allows us to practice self-love which can ripple out to the world and positively influence those around us. Take a moment to reflect on any good therapist or mental health professional. How do they do their job effectively? The answer is by having strong and clear personal boundaries. (Imagine taking on all the issues of those you serve – how exhausting!) The truth is that all mentally and emotionally healthy people possess boundaries.
- “Having personal boundaries will cause my relationships to suffer” – If you are in a codependent relationship, creating boundaries will most certainly create uncomfortable waves of change. If your partner is codependently entangled with you, there’s a high chance that they will be shocked and will certainly resist your efforts to be happy and healthy. (The same thing goes for codependent friendships.) If you find yourself in this situation, I encourage you to consider whether being in a toxic relationship/friendship is actually worth it. All healthy and supportive relationships will actually THRIVE and encourage the establishment of personal boundaries.
- “Having personal boundaries will cause people to dislike me” – This myth is partly true and partly false. The reality is that yes, setting clear boundaries might step on a few people’s toes. But creating boundaries will also cause more people to respect, hear, and like you. There’s nothing more admirable than a person who refuses to take bullshit from others and who stands by what they believe to be true. Not only that, but when you set boundaries, you’ll actually attract more people who are willing to respect you and be authentic friends or lovers.
- “Having personal boundaries will make me miserable” – This myth often appears as an underlying assumption that many people carry. But my response is simple: creating personal boundaries might feel uncomfortable at first, but pretty soon it’ll make you feel empowered and in control of your life again. So the opposite here is true: having personal boundaries will actually make you MUCH happier!
- “Having personal boundaries sounds rigid” – Personal boundaries are not black or white or set in stone – they are flexible according to your needs in the moment. So don’t feel the need to be harsh and cut people off. There’s a big difference between rigid boundaries and healthy boundaries. Rigid boundaries are walls constructed to permanently block people out, whereas healthy boundaries are adaptable and can change according to our inner needs.
Boundaries and the Spiritual Awakening Journey
Creating healthy personal boundaries doesn’t just benefit our everyday interactions with others, but it also enriches and strengthens our connection with our Souls.
When we’re constantly looking outside of ourselves and people-pleasing, we tend to forget that we all have a unique path in life, and it’s our job to listen to our true callings.
Lacking boundaries means that we’re frequently looking to others for direction and getting codependently enmeshed in their lives, rather than focusing on our own.
Sometimes what happens is that we get so wound up in other people that we “lose” ourselves. We experience a kind of soul loss (or being disconnected from our souls) that creates feelings of emptiness, loneliness, aimlessness, anxiety, and depression.
Lacking self-awareness of our true needs because we have poor boundaries, we may even fall into a Dark Night of the Soul where we feel totally lost and disconnected from our Higher Power (whatever that personally looks like).
Creating boundaries is an essential part of the spiritual awakening journey because it supports us in being true to ourselves, embracing our inner lone wolf, and walking our own paths.
12 Benefits of Creating Strong Personal Boundaries
Here are some further benefits that you can expect from putting in the hard work of setting clear boundaries:
- You’ll be able to say “no”
- You’ll feel empowered again
- You’ll feel more in control of your life
- You’ll attract healthy + supportive partners and friends
- You’ll have more mental, emotional, and physical energy
- You’ll be able to speak up and be heard
- You’ll feel more appreciated and valued
- You’ll be more in touch with your needs
- You’ll spend more time on yourself (without the guilt)
- You’ll experience more emotional balance and happiness
- You’ll experience increased self-esteem and self-worth
- You’ll feel more courage and freedom to be yourself
Remember that these qualities won’t develop overnight, but with practice and persistence, you’ll be able to experience many of these empowering benefits.
How to Create Personal Boundaries That People Don’t Ignore
Creating boundaries is less about other people and more about you and the beliefs and mindsets you have.
The following practices and pieces of advice will help you to target both your core beliefs and habitual behaviors.
1. Understand that you have the right to have boundaries
Lurking underneath the surface of people-pleasing behavior is the belief that we “have no right” to set boundaries. It’s time to challenge this ingrained assumption.
Why are others allowed to have boundaries and not you? Why must you feel like a lesser human being and elevate others above yourself?
It is a fundamental right of all human beings to have personal boundaries. Consider it your birthright to establish boundaries that define and protect you. Not only is it your right to create boundaries, but it is also your responsibility.
2. Understand that your thoughts, feelings, and needs are equally important to others
No one’s thoughts, feelings, or needs are “above” anyone else’s. Social status is an illusion created by the human mind. In other words, the Queen of England’s needs are equal to a homeless person’s needs. The only division created between us and others exists in the mind. Therefore, you are not “less important,” valuable, or worthy than others. Your needs are equally important to those in your life.
Learn to see yourself as equal to others. Affirm your worth each and every day with a mantra such as “I am worthy and my needs are important.” Learn to disagree with those who try to make you think or feel otherwise.
3. Explore your needs
Likely, you don’t have much experience or knowledge of your needs, especially if you ignore them to cater to others’ demands. Now is the time to start learning more about yourself.
Keep a daily journal in which you record your thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. Practicing self-reflection and introspection will help you to become more in tune with what you really need at any given moment. (Here are some journaling ideas.)
Practicing a few simple mindfulness exercises is another powerful way to know what boundaries you need to set during the day. Dedicate yourself to tuning into and learning more about who you are and what you really want out of life – this is one of the best ways to begin setting personal boundaries.
A fun way to start learning about who you are is by taking self-discovery tests (take a look at our tests!).
4. Practice daily self-care (because you’re worth it!)
Practicing daily self-care is a supplementary practice that will bolster your ability to set clear personal boundaries.
When you get into the habit of nurturing yourself, you’re already setting yourself up for success. You’re sending yourself the message that “I’m worth taking care of.” Setting firm boundaries will then seem like the next natural step in your self-care routine.
Simple ways to perform self-care include taking time to relax, practicing meditation, making delicious and nutritious food for yourself, exercising, setting daily goals, complimenting yourself, rewarding yourself, taking a nap, connecting with nature, drinking a soothing cup of tea, and many other practices.
Check out this article on self-love for more suggestions.
5. Learn to say “no”
Saying no is a key part of learning to be assertive and honoring your needs. You don’t need to flat out or aggressively say “no” if the situation doesn’t call for it. Instead, you can try saying phrases such as “No thank you,” “I can’t,” “I’m not able to,” “Not now,” “I’m busy, sorry,” “Maybe next time,” “I appreciate the offer, but I’m unable to,” and so forth. Experiment with different ways of saying no and see what feels most resonant with your personality.
6. Identify when people cross the line
It’s not always easy to identify when others overstep your boundaries, particularly if you’re used to not having any. Take time to record in a private journal each day all of the moments when you felt uncomfortable, upset, or disrespected by someone during the day. This journaling exercise will help you to develop more self-awareness.
Another way to know when people have overstepped your boundaries is by tuning into your body. Try to notice when you feel sensations like butterflies in your stomach, tension in your shoulders, or an increase in blood pressure which will manifest as feeling flustered and hot. Use these sensations as triggers to help you tune into the present moment and practice boundary setting.
7. Stop overcommitting
You’re not obliged or indebted to uphold every single social commitment that you have. Don’t try to please others at your own expense. Committing too much to other people and circumstances creates stress and burnout.
Learning to say no to non-essential things like work get-togethers, parties, and other social duties that are not life-or-death takes practice. So be gentle with yourself, remind yourself why you’re on this journey in the first place, and graciously decline whatever “fills your cup” too much. At the very least, others will appreciate your honesty.
8. Be courageous: let go of toxic friendships and relationships
It takes a certain level of courage to stick to your personal boundaries. Fake friends and flimsy relationships will inevitably self-destruct and fizzle away during this process. As a result, you might be left with feelings of guilt, shame, or like you’re doing something wrong.
It’s vital in these tough times to keep affirming that setting personal boundaries is your fundamental human right. You are WORTH it. Those who try to control, use, or abuse you will likely try to stop you – but don’t let them hold you back. Step away from those people who are polluting your life and seek out new friendships that are supportive and uplifting.
9. Seek help (but not from friends or family)
If you’re still needing help setting strong personal boundaries, chances are that those around you probably reinforce codependent behavior. So it’s not a wise idea to seek advice from them, however well-intentioned they may be.
If you need more in-depth advice and personal assistance, I recommend either reading a book such as Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, or seeking the help of a therapist (or both).
Finally, just be mindful of approaching this journey with gentleness and self-compassion. You were not responsible for developing poor boundaries (it was how you were conditioned). BUT you are responsible for now changing them and owning your personal power. I hope this article has given you some helpful pointers to help you do that.
Tell me, what experiences have you had with people overstepping your boundaries? And what advice can you give to others in your situation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
I felt that I was not OK as a child and so I pretended to be who I thought would be loved and excepted. This is my persona or mask. I have lived my life with this pre-tense. I forgot that this is not who I am. My persona is what I thought needed to be protected and needed boundaries. Who I truly am does not need to be protected or have boundaries. I realize now I need to be 100% responsible for everything. All my love, Stephan
This is a great article, thank you.
I’m working on boundaries with my therapist, and recognize myself in some of the items of your list, when I was in the savior role of the persecutor/victim/savior triangle.
Boundaries. Easy to say, easy to understand, definitely want them, but also not quite as easy to understand and where to draw them. I’ve been going through a very difficult time with my beloved son, with whom I thought I had a close relationship. A recent death in our family has rendered him incapable of supporting our grieving family, but in a disrespectful and rejecting kind of way. We are so unsure of how to handle this as parents, but he has NOT been there for his sister, who lost her husband or us as parents, who are helping our daughter put a new foundation together for herself and her three children. We are beside ourselves with grief and have no idea how to handle this additional stressor. We feel like we lost our son too. Any ideas?
I had a coworker that would walk up behind me and slide their hand over my shoulder. Took a few times of letting them know not to do that and it hasn’t happened since. Also my mom has always felt compelled to tell me what I need to fix or do differently. I have pushed back twice now this year alone and feel better for it both times.
This was a very good post about how boundaries improve one’s life and wellbeing. I’ve barely started out on enforcing my boundaries but the impact of just saying no to hanging out with people who are not good for me and telling people I will talk to them another time or not folloe their advice has been enormous…my whole relationships have changed drastically (i have less drama in my life as i also give those who dont like me less power sometimes) I will internalise this article to one day master boundary making skills
I had just started to re read this weeks topic on Personal Boundaries, and had just written down the words manipulated, exploited, dominated, coerced, pressured, bullied, controlled etc. When I felt the need to explore more slowly and re read the Shadow Self, which is fascinating in its own right as a force for both good and a destructive force if left unchecked and unfelt. (A real non fluffy approach). So I discovered that some of us that are at different stages, tend to “project” or dump the Dark Side from the Shadow self on others, as this in our non self loving ignorance is how we were guided to see and react in this mysterious inner/outer world. Then I read a “quiet desperation…” Which made me wonder of the frustration I feel when my dear one drops a clanger (opinion) which needs investigation. During the discussion frustration develops, as I learn of my non inclusion in some social event. I feel isolated, abandoned or left out. As if I am not important enough to be considered worthy of inclusion in the planning of these events. Which sets off a kind of rejection or non loving attitude from her to… Read more »
I’ve commented three times with regard to this article on setting boundaries. Obviously, it’s been an ongoing battle in my life. It’s difficult to set healthy boundaries with our adult children, as my husband chooses to make me the bad mom and buries his head in the sand, especially with our son who’s battled addiction for 20 years. It’s ruined our marriage – although still together. He’s perfectly fine, as long as I’m the one with a target on my back and he’s not in the line of fire. 42 years! We’ve lived in separate parts of our large home for about two years, but are trying to reconcile. A house divided…..will never work!