How to Cultivate Boundaries for a Truly Authentic Life
Healthy boundaries help us let the good in and keep the bad out.
In this way, they help us establish healthy and respectful relationships, and they also support us in living as the most authentic versions of ourselves. In this post, I want to share five big ideas that will help you cultivate healthy boundaries in a way that will have a profoundly positive impact, not only on your relationship with other people but also on your relationship with yourself.
The five ideas below are taken from a video class I recorded a few years ago for the En*theos Academy, in which I dived deeper into the topic of boundaries. The academy is no longer running, but if you’re a member of the Becoming Who You Are community, you can watch the whole video class with additional content, plus download the written notes to go with it from the video class section of the Library :)
1. Remember that boundaries are beautiful
We need healthy boundaries in order to protect and nurture ourselves. Although the word “boundaries” implies separateness, our relationships actually become more intimate when we have stronger boundaries in place.
Boundaries often require saying “no”, which can feel uncomfortable. However, saying or hearing “no” is not necessarily a negative experience. As you move forward, remember that every “no” is a “yes” to something else, and setting boundaries allows you to ensure that you’re living according to your highest principles and values.
2. Boundaries are an art, not a science
There are very few “rules” when it comes to boundaries, and this is part of their challenge and part of their charm! As individuals, our boundaries will be different to the next person’s. Our personality, communities, career, and past experiences might all affect how we cultivate our personal boundaries. Part of our responsibility to ourselves is to play around (yes, this can be fun! :)), experiment, and see what feels right for us.
3. Boundaries are gates, not walls
When we hear the word “boundary”, we might think of a fence, a wall, or a line. If we treat our boundaries as walls, however, we risk keeping everything out—the bad and the good.
Rather than thinking of boundaries as walls, think of them as gates that let certain things in and keep certain things out. You can decide what enters those gates and what stays outside.
4. Care for someone, rather than taking care of them
Healthy boundaries help us cultivate respect for ourselves and other people. Part of cultivating that respect means recognising that someone is capable of living their own lives and taking care of themselves, and empowering them to do that.
We can—and do—care for people, but this is different to taking care of them. When we care for someone, we can support and encourage them, safe in the knowledge that they will do what’s right for them. When we take care of someone, however, we assume responsibility for meeting their needs and solving their problems. More often than not in these situations, as well as taking care of them, we end up inadvertently taking responsibility for and power from them too.
We’ll encounter certain situations and times when we want or need to care for someone who is younger, older, sick, or going through particular hardship. The art is recognising when we can truly help someone by taking care of them, or when the kindest thing to do is to encourage them to take care of themselves.
This also works in the other direction: we might notice times when we’re unconsciously wanting someone to take care of us, solve our big problems, and meet our needs. We, and no one else, are responsible for our experience of life and, by taking back that responsibility, we open ourselves up to new opportunities and possibilities.
5. Be a freedom advocate
Just as there’s a big difference between caring for people and taking care of them, there’s a difference between sharing our opinions and advice with others and expecting them to do what we want or behave in the way that we think they should.
Respecting ourselves means recognising that we are capable of creating the life we want, and respecting other people means extending that same recognition to them. We might have the opinion that someone should choose a certain path in life, but just because we think something is the right path for someone else doesn’t mean it actually is.
We can influence other people, but we can’t control them. We can live in hope, but it's not fair to place expectations on other people they are unwilling or unable to meet. Be a freedom advocate—both for yourself and for other people—and notice how expansive that feels.
Want to learn more about cultivating healthy boundaries? Check out the full video class and the accompanying written notes in the Becoming Who You Are Library. You’ll also get access to free workbooks, audios, and video classes on personal growth, self-awareness and living a meaningful life.