Food for Thought: Waking Up to Our Boundaries

“Boundaries are the lines we draw that mark off our autonomy and that of other people, that protect our privacy and that of others. Boundaries allow for intimate connection without dissolving or losing one’s sense of self.”   

– Amy Bloom

I love this definition of boundaries by Amy Bloom – psychotherapist, author, screenwriter and probably my new shero.

Boundaries make it safe for us to engage with others, without compromising our independence. They separate us from each other, while at the same time allowing us to be close. Rather than a barrier to relationship, boundaries give us the means to connect authentically.

But what if we don’t know where they are?

If our personal boundaries aren’t respected in childhood, we struggle to find them in adulthood.

Without an understanding of our own and others’ boundaries, relationships are tricky. What happens if someone wants more from us than we’re willing to give? How do we say no?

Boundary violations can become so habitual we never stop to consider what’s OK with us and what’s not – we just accept without question and sleepwalk our way through our interactions.

It’s hard to define something that’s invisible. But while we can’t see our boundaries, we can feel them. Rather than ignoring what it feels like when someone steps over the line, we can use that sensation as a guide to identify our line.  Then, instead of sleepwalking, we can wake up to our personal boundaries and begin to define them clearly.

Ultimately, we can learn to engage with others in a meaningful way while still protecting our autonomy, our integrity and our sense of self.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2019.

37 thoughts on “Food for Thought: Waking Up to Our Boundaries

  1. Love this post, Julie. Sometimes it’s almost as though we need permission to set boundaries and can feel we are being selfish by having boundaries in the first place. I think your post clearly outlines how the very opposite is true, Lxx

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    1. “Permission” is such a good word, Lol. I think that’s exactly right – often we feel we’re not allowed to have personal boundaries and defend them if necessary. As you say, it can feel as though we’re being selfish, especially if we’ve been taught to be compliant. Great to hear from you, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. When my husband was diagnosed with Dementia, I had a difficult time setting boundaries with the family. My brother, bless him, wanted to alleviate my fear and wanted to help. He crossed all kinds of boundaries with me and I felt helpless to “redefine” them…..worrying that I’d come across as ungrateful. It caused problems between us that took time to work out but now he’s very cautious not to “cross that invisible line.” We have a rule…….ask me if I need help….don’t bulldoze me. Crossing boundaries is not only disrespectful towards the person who has instituted them but allowing someone to cross them is disrespectful to yourself.
    This topic was hugely discussed with my family. They are wonderful people who only want to help but I will ask for that help when I need it not when THEY decide.
    Wonderful post Julie! Everyone should have “rules” of what is acceptable and what is not. Hope you are well!😀

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    1. You sound very clear on that boundary now, Erin – you’ll ask for help if you need it, rather than allowing others to assume you want their help. It can be difficult redefining boundaries, especially if people are used to relating to us in a certain way and are attempting to be helpful, but it’s necessary for strong relationships. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it’s very much appreciated. I’m good, thanks, and hope you’re all doing OK.

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  3. What a great quote and post! I like the idea of first *feeling* where the lines are, then working on defining them. It took me until middle age to even know what some of mine were, and communicating them well is forever a work-in-progress 🙂

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    1. I feel the same, Karen – if we struggle to know where our boundaries are, defining them for ourselves and showing them to others is an ongoing process. But I think that’s OK, don’t you? It doesn’t have to be perfect. Life just feels better when they’re a bit clearer. Great to hear your thoughts on this.

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  4. An interesting post Julie – with an intriguing quote from Amy Bloom to boot. Boundaries and limitations as l have always interepreted them as .. interestingly you say ‘If our personal boundaries aren’t respected in childhood, we struggle to find them in adulthood.’ It is equally as difficult in childhood knowing your boundaries in fact l would say some would never know what their boundaries are or are meant to be in childhood, of course that is down to reflective interpretation but if you don’t know WHAT they are in childhood then how ‘are’ you going to know them in adulthood?

    I only learned about my boundaries and limitations in my forties and only in so far as what l could and could not tolerate in my life … but l didn’t know of any boundaries in childhood, because l was never allowed boundaries.

    This is an interesting topic … something that l might look at slightly differently with a question today – thank you Julie for a deep thought and thinking topic 🙂

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    1. You’re so welcome, Rory, I’m glad you found the post thought-provoking (makes me feel like I’ve done my job!). You’re right that if we aren’t shown where our boundaries are when we’re children, we really have no sense of them and don’t know we’re even allowed them. Like you, many people only begin to understand their personal boundaries later in life. Thank you for sharing your experience, it’s good to hear your thoughts.

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  5. Great post Julie and pertinent for me at present as my running partner is female. I realised that our boundaries are very important but sometimes humorous, for instance I realised tonight as we ran, her hand brushed mine and she apologised 😂

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  6. An excellent point, that as much as we may know how important boundaries are, it’s useless if we don’t know ours actually are. I think your point about ‘feeling’ them is a good one; sometimes it’s gut instinct that can drive boundaries, and this serves as as excellent reminder to revisit the issue and see whether we need to be figuring out what those boundaries are for us, especially as things can change over time  ♥
    Caz xx

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    1. Absolutely – we’re often so used to ignoring that gut instinct, it can make all the difference if we learn to pay attention to it. It can help us work out where our boundaries are so we feel safer in our interactions with others (especially people who are challenging!). Good to hear from you, Caz, hope your week is going well.


  7. Isn’t it funny how we often think that we are the only people with boundaries? Or that other people have the same boundaries as we do.
    Also, I think that boundaries need to be periodically reassessed. They are not set in stone.

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    1. I agree – in the same way that our self-concept can change, our boundaries can change. Also, some of our personal boundaries will be rigid, while others have a degree of flexibility. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  8. Thank you for sharing!.. personally I don’t set boundaries, I just follow my heart and rarely go wrong.. 🙂

    To quote Adam Clarke;
    I can’t give solutions to all of life’s problems, doubts,
    or fears. But I can listen to you, and together we will
    search for answers.

    I can’t change your past with all it’s heartache and pain,
    nor the future with its untold stories.
    But I can be there now when you need me to care.

    I can’t keep your feet from stumbling.
    I can only offer my hand that you may grasp it and not fall.
    Your joys, triumphs, successes, and happiness are not mine;
    Yet I can share in your laughter.

    Your decisions in life are not mine to make, nor to judge;
    I can only support you, encourage you,
    and help you when you ask.

    I can’t prevent you from falling away from friendship,
    from your values, from me.
    I can only think of you, talk to you and wait for you.

    I can’t give you boundaries which I have determined for you,
    But I can give you the room to change, room to grow,
    room to be yourself.

    I can’t keep your heart from breaking and hurting,
    But I can cry with you and help you pick up the pieces
    and put them back in place.

    I can’t tell you who you are or who you will be
    I can only love you and be your friend
    (Adam Clarke)

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  9. I have always had a big problem with boundaries. I often feel like a doormat. Like people take advantage of me. People tell me I’m “too nice”. Lots of trouble saying no. So my history of relationships has been very rocky. At age 48 I am FINALLY confident enough to work on this. It’s so hard to change at my age! But I am saying no more often and I’ve turned the ringer off on my phone so I can choose when to engage with people who tend to walk all over me. Baby steps!

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    1. There’s power in that “no”, isn’t there? It’s great to hear you’re beginning to work out where your boundaries are, and I think baby steps are fine – change is normally a series of small steps rather than big “eureka!” moments. As you recognise, if we don’t know where the line is for us, people will take advantage. When our boundaries are clearer to us, we communicate that to others. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, I imagine many people can relate to it.


      1. I don’t think it’s indicative of any one particular disorder but people with personality disorders – such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, dependent personality disorder etc – will typically struggle with understanding appropriate boundaries. Difficulty with boundary setting indicates a struggle with self-esteem – we need appropriate and clear boundaries for a healthy sense of self-worth. I hope that answers your question, many thanks for asking it.

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      2. Ok I’m sure you are barraged with people asking you for free advice so I apologise. But one last question. Say I do have dependant personality disorder, I’m sure there’s therapy for that but do you know if there are any meds? I also have bipolar II and anxiety. I don’t expect you to write me a prescription lol I’m just curious! 😀

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      3. I feel I need to say that I gave dependent personality disorder as an example – not as a suggestion! Personality disorders aren’t my area, although some of my clients will have an eating disorder as well as a personality disorder. Also, as I’m a psychotherapist not a psychiatrist, I don’t prescribe drugs so I can’t recommend anything there either! Sorry not to be more help.


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